If you are like me, you may feel that our current daily feed of media reports covers a significant amount of bad news. It is important to pay attention to and stay informed about these daunting reports, which provide a window to experiences of conflict and suffering.
Yet, while we can observe these problems and potentially feel a sense of helplessness, I also want to discuss how a commitment to continuous learning can provide possibilities of hope in troubling times.
Serving as a board member for One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) provides me with hope. First, I am hopeful for the future when I consider OEF’s powerful mission. OEF seeks to drive local solutions, empowering people to use their unique talents and experiences to impact lasting, transformational change.
Regionally, OEF’s comprehensive approach spanning five core areas of development and stellar track record stands tall among third sector organizations in the region. Its bold mission supports a holistic ecosystem of programs and initiatives, providing a 360-degree approach to community development and serving as one regional exemplar.
To complete this boundary-spanning work, OEF has taught me that such a mission and corresponding vision require strong governance that centers on deep learning.
I also see possibilities of hope when I can contribute critical lessons I have learned elsewhere to help drive positive social change at home. A sage of our time, John A. Powell defines belonging as “… more than being seen. Belonging entails having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of social and cultural structures.”
I remain committed to researching and documenting the practices of the third sector within the Caribbean and elsewhere, especially for those who have to fight for a seat at various tables of influence. I utilize the lessons derived from my work to guide my leadership and advance the mission of empowering Bahamians.
I offer some of these lessons to you for reflection. Although expressed through the lens of the third sector, these lessons can be applied in many different contexts to bring about positive outcomes.
1. Identify the true source of the problems we seek to solve:
Organizations can lose sight of the source of a problem, develop unnecessary strategies, and fail to make meaningful change. However, it is possible for any organization to recalibrate its efforts by utilizing accurate data and useful insights to correctly address problems at their root cause.
I recently spent some time working with and learning from the lessons gleaned by a private philanthropic foundation. This foundation made a big bet on addressing a major challenge and sought deep community impact. However, the foundation’s strategy to improve social outcomes received pushback from local communities because community experiences were not fully considered in the initial design of the foundation’s strategy.
The foundation first rolled out their strategy with programs and activities aimed at providing support to a broad swathe of communities. Yet the strategy did not clearly identify how specific demographics like ethnicity, age, rural or urban residents hoped to engage with the foundation’s proposed programming.
The foundation chose to pivot, and this decision allowed them to redesign their strategy to ensure that they were listening to the needs of local community members, the very people they hoped to serve. They also designed a diverse range of evaluations and assessments, including surveys, focus groups, and storytelling, to monitor whether their updated strategy had truly incorporated the insights that local communities related to the distinct problems that individuals and specific communities faced.
The foundation’s decision to deepen its partnerships with communities, in large part, helped to bring about the desired impact that their strategy sought to accomplish. Clearly identifying the source of the problems by engaging in robust learning can bring rich returns on achieving improved social outcomes and success.
2. Use the plethora of tools at our disposal wisely:
The good news is that we have an unprecedented amount of technology and innovation at our disposal to increase efficiency and connection. Yet, we also see the problems associated with these kinds of advancements. Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a conversation on the promise and perils of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for creatives and writers.
Panelists with expertise in journalism, education, research, and IT discussed how AI has the potential to serve all sectors. For example, third sector organizations use AI to analyze funding trends and enhance communication to reach new donors. However, AI also poses problems related to intellectual property and as a human-made system, can also amplify dangerous biases that already exist in society.
The panel experts noted that the key to managing our use of this tool requires us to bear the responsibility of learning about its promise and perils, support our youth in recognizing those challenges, and find ways as teachers, advocates, or through technical support to ensure that AI is safe for all.
Nonprofits should seek out training in ethics along with the possibilities of AI and commit to sharing best practices within the sector. AI is one of the many tools that can help propel our missions and work. We should seek them out, but our use must be balanced with our discernment.
3. Be the change
There is so much to fret and complain about, but we cannot sit on the sidelines, failing to commit ourselves “to being the change we want to see in the world.” We all have something to contribute, and our lived experiences and cultural backgrounds provide a wonderful starting point.
Many years ago, I remember interviewing a young Bahamian civil society leader, and she described her approach to leadership, which I still appreciate to this day, “I may be from a small island, but I have a big vision.” We should harness our unique stories and capabilities to drive change.
Active participation in making positive change requires bringing our authentic selves to our work along with a lot of sweat equity, but it also means learning from others. Here’s another lesson from a grassroots organizer who received it from a mentor, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” We should use our voices but never forget to listen to and incorporate the useful wisdom of others.
These lessons, and others that you can identify in your engagement with positive missions, can provide us with some fuel to meet the demands of an era of intense challenges. We can work towards addressing the bad news by finding hope drawn from a commitment to continuous learning, reflection and adaptation.
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.