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.
Sweat the Small Stuff
The words we use, the smiles we give or don’t give, the policies we create and enforce all matter. Each small action is a reflection of our values and guiding principles. In itself each experience or action may seem insignificant, but collectively they are extremely important. As such, it is imperative that we, as an organization, intentionally live our values.
But it’s not possible to live our values if we are not clear about what those values are and how they jive with our discreet actions. What do we value? Our values are best outlined in Women’s Bean Project’s Guiding Principles:
We help women help themselves. We provide opportunities for our participants to discover their talents and develop skills to join the workforce and build a better life.
Core to our philosophy at the Bean Project is the idea that we will teach each woman to fish, rather than provide her with the fish. This means that we connect each woman to the resources she needs to accomplish her goals, but accomplishing those goals is her responsibility. We know that if she secures childcare, an apartment or even the next job, she will be able to take that action again and again. If we get childcare, an apartment or the job for her, it will have only happened once, with no assurances she will be able to do it for herself in the future. To us, this is core to teaching each woman to fish.
We strive to “do well by doing good.” We are a social enterprise that believes it is a basic human right to live a stable, healthy life. We serve our supporters, partners, participants and communities by delivering quality products with innovation and efficiency.
At WBP, our culture of continuous improvement is essential. It allows us to adjust our program offerings to best meet the needs of the women and their future employers. It is essential in our willingness to improve our operations to best serve our customers. And it is key to our willingness to innovate our product offerings to appeal to the marketplace, resulting in more sales and more jobs.
Our efforts transform more than the individual woman. The seeds of hope in one woman weave threads of success that expand to families and communities with a reach that touches individuals worldwide. From program participants and vendors to customers, donors and volunteers, their transformations make a difference.
In our 30 year history we have served multiple generations of the same family. Even in my tenure we have hired a woman, her aunt, her daughter, her mother. More than anything I believe this to be a sign of intergenerational poverty. Yet, I still believe that with each woman we serve, we should strive to provide services so effective and far-reaching that she is last in her family who needs us.
In my book The Third Law, I talked about the challenges of transformation for the women, how even as they work so hard to change their lives, there continue to be forces that push back on that change. Even so, the Bean Project is not a place women come to stay the same. Instead, it is a place to set oneself on a different trajectory, a new path of fulfillment
Using the tools we provide, women are empowered to change their lives. Our supporters are empowered with the knowledge that they have contributed, not only to the self-worth and self-sufficiency of disadvantaged women, but also to the broad-reaching benefits our communities reap.
Today Felisha graduated the program – just in time to start her new job on Monday. When women graduate, we conduct intimate graduation ceremonies with our staff and program participants. The graduate speaks and then others have the opportunity to say what the graduate has meant to them. Felisha talked about how she had wanted to change her life for a long time, but she didn’t know how. It took her time at the Bean Project to help show her a path forward for change. I know that Felisha made the changes herself, and I’d like to think that she was able to do it because of the skills she learned at the Bean Project where we gave her the support, safety and the room to effect change in her own life.
Instead of a one-time handout, women’s quire the tools needed to sustain themselves and their families for a lifetime. We believe in nurturing economic sustainability for our program participants and partner, being ever-mindful of our impact on the environment.
During the program the women learn many skills that will help them be better employees, community members and mothers. This include planning and organizing to help them get a handle on their schedules and paperwork, financial literacy so they can appropriately budget their income, and communication and conflict resolution skills. The wide variety of skills really do help them learn what’s needed to sustain themselves and their families. Once learned, no one will ever be able to take those skills away from them.
Yes, we sweat the small stuff, because we know that the little things matter. It’s not easy to live our values, but I believe there’s no better way to do our work.
Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO
Find the entire series of “Pearls: Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey: Here.