Pearl #6: We Are in the Change Business

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 Are in the Change Business

Change is Not Meant to be Easy

When I became the CEO of Women’s Bean Project in 2003, we were trying to emerge from a financial crisis. The work of moving us toward financial stability had started before I took the job. So much of my work when I began was about re-setting our course. It meant many hours of challenging analysis and painful choices that led to hurt feelings and flared tempers. Nearly every aspect of our operations changed. There were times when all I had was the courage of my conviction that I was making the right decisions. Eventually, we pulled through the crisis and began to thrive. We’re still here, thankfully, 16 years later.  

Change is funny in that when you’re in the midst of it, it is rarely much fun. As I reflect on those early days of my tenure, it’s incredible to think of all the changes we made in a relatively short amount of time. What I learned in that process is that it’s a lot easier to be an agent of change when staying the same isn’t a choice. If we hadn’t made so many changes to our operations, we certainly would not have survived, much less made it to our 30th anniversary! 

Stepping into Change

I suppose it’s human nature to wait until things are truly desperate before we attempt to make changes. After all, change is hard and stressful and intimidating. Since that time, though, we have continued to make changes. Last year, we updated our program approach to be more consistent with recent brain science research; for example, how the adult brain is affected by trauma and scarcity. This year we are introducing equipment to semi-automate our production processes. In fact, every year, it seems we are proactively making changes to better address the women’s needs, to more efficiently operate our business and to continue to be a great place to work. 

Wanting Change vs. Requiring Change

Perhaps it is good that we, as an organization, are always changing. After all, we are in the business of change. What would it say about us as an organization if we dug in our heels and tried to stay the same? How would we have the credibility to lead the women toward changing their lives? 

But there is change for the sake of changing, because we are bored or afraid, and there is change because it is a necessary part of growth. I’d like to think that both our organization and the women we serve are part of the latter category. Even so, I recognize there is a difference between change that we initiate because we want our lives to be different and change that is required. 

As I say to all of the new program participants on their first day of work with us, the Bean Project is not the place you come to stay the same. Instead, it is the place to create lasting change in one’s life. I recognize that on their first day this is a tall order and probably feels overwhelming. But I hope it also speaks to the promise of something better if they trust us to be their partner in change.  

The Business of Change

Is there road map for change? I think we have developed one at the Bean Project. 

It starts with finding women who are ready for a change. Often these are also women that no longer have a choice to stay the same.  Maybe she has lost her kids, or her past drug use has greatly affected her health, or the next time she gets in trouble she will go to prison for a long time. Maybe she’s tired and wants to have a better life. Regardless, there is a time when one is ready. Our job is to find these women and hire them at that time. 

Just because someone has decided to change, it doesn’t mean that change is easy. Once we hire a new group of women, we need them to tap their courage to create new lives for themselves. Every woman who is hired at the Bean has tried and failed in the past. So, we work with these women to help them see that what they may have thought was impossible is actually possible. The women we hire have the power to change their own lives. But it requires the willingness to put aside old beliefs and negativity about their self-worth and look at the world with an open mind and open heart – to consider oneself with an open mind and open heart.

“Just because someone has decided to change, it doesn’t mean that change is easy.”

People can effect change in their lives when they are open to the idea of changing; i.e., if they want it, or are motivated. I don’t know if it matters what that motivation is. Does it matter that it’s fear versus a desire to be with one’s children?  

Is there a way to overcome the past and achieve goals that were previously impossible? There is and I’ve seen it. Change is possible and we are good at it. After all, it’s our business to be.  

Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO


Read all of the “Pearls: Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” here.

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