By: Reverend Lane Glaze
My relationship with the people of Eleuthera and The Bahamas dates back to early 2000. More than 20 years later (including the last seven years that I’ve served as President of One Eleuthera Foundation of the U.S.), I continue to learn many life lessons from my Bahamian friends.
Whether in my work as a pastor leading congregations, as a Professor of Practice of Nonprofit Leadership at Clemson University, or as a trustee for a small church-affiliated college, I continue to carry these experiences into every pulpit, lectern and Board room.
Over the years, most of my work in The Bahamas has centered around community development. But the lessons that I have learned while in The Bahamas apply to any person seeking to do typical “community develop work”: building a team of diverse folks who seek to solve complex problems.
Following are the Top 5 Lessons that I have taken back to the States and shared with my friends, parishioners and colleagues over the years:
Letting Go of Grudges
During my first trip to The Bahamas, I learned a lesson about “island life” that is desperately needed today in the U.S.
Shaun Ingraham, CEO of One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF), was the host for me and the group of 30 students and adults from Clemson University. Early in the week, I remember asking him about a mutual Bahamian friend. “Oh yes,” Shaun replied, “I definitely know him!” His tone and non-verbal expressions made me conclude that the two were not necessarily on the best terms.
Later that week, Shaun brought his name up again, noting that he needed to “call our mutual friend” to get his advice on something, which led me to ask, “I thought the two of you had some kind of falling out?” “We did,” Shaun replied. “But when you live on an island, Lane, you must learn how to forgive and get along. Life is too hard and our shared challenges are too great.”
While straightforward and perfectly consistent with my faith as a Christian, this letting-go-of-grudges behavior is not the norm in many circles. More often than not, people who disagree will write each other
off, refusing to communicate for years, if not the rest of their lives. Some even choose to move to a different town or state.
Lesson 1: Like in community development, solving big problems involves building a team of diverse persons who must learn how to get along…for the sake of larger, shared goals.
Transcending the Silos
Closely connected to the first lesson is the second Bahamian lesson that has greatly shaped my life and work over the years: when attempting to address significant challenges, we must strive to transcend the silos.
Over time I have witnessed how Bahamians, like Americans, can often operate in silos. For example, the church silo does not interact with the business silo… the business silo does not interact with the government silo…and so on. And even within these silos, there are often smaller silos as well. And for most of us, life is lived within our chosen silos.
Central to OEF’s philosophy from day one has been the goal of bringing individuals, businesses, government ministries, nonprofits, churches – whoever is interested – together to tackle the country’s most significant challenges.
While “silo-living” is comfortable for most, we are faced with some challenges that are too big or complex to tackle alone. Instead, our collective energy, expertise and effort is needed to complete the task.
Lesson 2: As with community development work, shared solutions to big problems like food insecurity, affordable housing, access to health, education, decent jobs, fire safety, and environmental protection, etc. – can only be achieved when we are willing to transcend the comfort and familiarity of our silos.
Celebrating the Widow’s Mite
In the Gospels, we find Jesus of Nazareth praising the contributions of the widow who placed her offering – two mites, worth about two cents – into the temple treasury with these words:
Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their
abundance, but she out of her poverty, put in all that she had, her whole livelihood (Mark 12:43-44, NKJV).
Throughout the years, this every-contribution-matters approach has been a pillar of OEF’s approach to community development. I’ll share the story of the Eleuthera Arts and Cultural Centre in Tarpum Bay, which captures this lesson well.
Beginning in the spring of 2007, a group of concerned citizens started cleaning up the historic-yet-dilapidated school in Tarpum Bay, known at the time as “Lil’ Prep.” These efforts led to a larger conversation about what could be done to reclaim the building, which had been used by the community in various capacities for nearly two centuries and was considered a sacred space by most locals.
In time, a plan to renovate the building was created, funds were raised and the work of renovating Lil’ Prep began.
The project leaders adopted a revolutionary concept: local workers would be hired to work five days a week, with a portion of their hours being “paid” and a portion of their hours being “donated.” Ultimately, these “donated” hours were quantified, and individual workers were recognized for their selfless, in-kind contributions to the effort.
When it came time to celebrate the opening of the new Eleuthera Arts and Cultural Centre, everyone’s contributions were recognized – from those who had made five-figure donations to those who had put in sweat equity and donated many days of their time.
Lesson 3: Tackling community-sized problems involves gathering, incorporating and celebrating the unique contributions of each and every person in the community – no matter how the world might value them.
Don’t Rush It
As a young CPA with Ernst & Young years ago, I worked with a client from Hong Kong who purchased a textile plant in North Carolina. The new owners had made more than $40 million of improvements to a plant that, at the time, was only producing $15 million in sales a year.
I asked the CEO, who had just moved from Hong Kong, “$40 million is a lot of money – how can you justify this kind of investment in new equipment when the company’s sales is what it is?”
“Where I come from, we do not make decisions with the next quarterly results in mind as you do in America,” the CEO responded. “When we make investments, we ask, ‘What will the results look like in 10 years?’”
Like my friend from Hong Kong, my Bahamian friends have taught me over the years that many things – including many of the hardest things – often take time and, therefore, cannot be rushed. Building consensus and trust is a slow process and yet essential for solving some of our world’s biggest challenges.
The Junkanoo “Rushout” is a perfect metaphor for this lesson. As a bystander, you can hear the drums beating, the whistles and trumpets blaring and the bells “clicking” from far away. And yet the “rush” moves slowly, methodically – without actually rushing at all! Playing and marching in sync, the “rush” moves along slowly, building strength and momentum.
Lesson 4: Similar to community development work, major change will take time to happen. We must let go of the “tyranny of the urgent” to allow consensus and trust to develop in time.
There’s Always More Room at the Table
One of my favorite parables from the New Testament is the story of the workers in the vineyard. Some work all day, some half the day and others for only a few hours – yet the vineyard owner pays them all the same amount! While this story primarily teaches the audacity of God’s abundant, undeserved grace, it has applications for those of us who are seeking to build teams to address complicated problems.
Leaving our silos to work with others can be scary. For some, the idea of diverse constituents coming together to solve shared problems is new.
And like with any innovation, there will always be the “early adopters” who join immediately as well as the “late adopters” who only decide to participate after everyone else has already done so.
Like the vineyard owner in the parable, my Bahamian friends have taught me that being a “late adopter” is perfectly fine. Everyone is welcome whether someone signs up on day 1 or day 1,000 because everyone matters and, in the end, will be needed. There is always “room at the table.”
Lesson 5: Some of life’s most complex work is only effective to the degree that all stakeholders are on-board. There’s a role that each and every person can and must play.
* * * * *
Rev. C. Lane Glaze is President/Chair of One Eleuthera Foundation of the U.S., a 501(c)3 based in the Carolinas that exists to support the work of the One Eleuthera Foundation and its partners. An ordained United Methodist minister and former CPA and private banker, Lane also serves as Professor of Practice in Nonprofit Leadership at Clemson University.
About One Eleuthera Foundation
Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.