Pearl #19: We Help Women Help Themselves

Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years. 

We Help Women Help Themselves

Providing the tools for a lifetime of success

I’m often asked if we place the women we serve into their next job upon graduation from the Bean Project. The quick answer is no. The more elaborate answer is that:  

  • We help the women we serve prepare their resumes and cover letters.  
  • We teach them to write a letter of explanation that helps tell the story about their past and where they are going, rather than where they have been.  
  • We relay the skills needed to search and apply for jobs online. 
  • We create an environment that allow each woman to learn what employers are looking for, how to interview and how to manage a job search. 

While we walk alongside the women during the process, actually getting the job is their responsibility. Because if we were to get the women jobs, they’d get one job. When they learn to do it themselves, they can repeat the process over and over again throughout their lives.  

Teach a woman to fish…

At the Bean Project, we see our role as being the helper in the short term with a goal of being unnecessary in the long term. We believe that the best service we can provide is to help women help themselves. We provide opportunities for our participants to discover their talents and develop skills to join the workforce and build better lives. We can be a partner for change, but making the change is up to the women we serve. Using the tools we provide, we intend for the women to be empowered to change their own lives.  

In his book Toxic Charity, Robert D. Lupton talks about how handouts only lead to needing more handouts. Teaching people and allowing them to help themselves is what makes lasting, positive change possible. This idea is core to Women’s Bean Project’s philosophy. In our opinion the adage, “Give a man to fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime” could not be more true. Handing out the resources – housing, childcare, health care, the next job – to the women we employ is temporary. Teaching her to access the resources herself is permanent. The most compassionate approach to our work is to help each woman help herself.  

Serve more women better

In our recently completed strategic plan, we identified our over-arching goal to serve more women better. 

Among other things, serving more women better means that the women we hire will leave the Bean Project having started on the path to self-sufficiency and with the wherewithal to continue. It means we will measure our impact with each woman and her progress in areas such as self-sufficiency, self-esteem and hope because we know that if these things change she will be on a stronger path than when she arrived.  It also means that we will measure our success not only by whether or not she gets a job upon graduation, but also whether or not she is able to stay employed. A year after graduating, 93% of our graduates have done this. They have learned to help themselves and are on a path toward a better future.  

Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO


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