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 Also in the Hope Business
The difference between trying and giving up
In the last Pearl I talked about being in the Change business. I mentioned the challenges of changing, staying fresh, and current in the work that we do.
One of the changes that we made in the past few months that I am very interested in is starting to measure the changes in hope that happen during each woman’s tenure in the program.
What constitutes hope? What changes it? In its simplest sense, hope is a feeling of expectation or desire for something to happen. Hope is inherently optimistic and outward facing, rather than internally focused. It is the belief that my life could be better. Hope is the difference between trying one more time to improve one’s life and giving up in futility.
Wishful thinking? No, hope goes beyond that and requires that one take action to make their circumstances better. Without hope, there is no need to try.
Hope allows our women to have goals and then work to get closer to those goals, despite what may happen in life. Hope allows our women to approach their circumstances with a mindset of overcoming what is holding them back from succeeding. Accordingly to psychologists, hope matters.
Even if they don’t realize it at the time, I believe hope is what originally leads women to apply to the Bean Project. In this way, their hope consists of the will to reach one’s goals – what the women bring – and the ways to get there – what the Bean Project teaches. In our case, hope is part of a symbiotic relationship until we are able to hand everything over to the women to nurture for themselves.
What if we could measure hope?
At Women’s Bean Project, we are in the change business AND we are in the hope business. Beginning to measure changes in hope that occur during the women’s tenure in the program marks a fascinating opportunity for us and those we serve. My hunch is that there will be a self-fulfilling aspect to increases in hope. I suspect that the more each woman sees that her hope is improving, the more it will continue to improve. What if we were, over time, able to measure per capita hope and begin to predict future success?
At the Bean Project we start and end our week with Morning Meeting. This is a time on Mondays and Fridays when we all come together, and through sharing our dreams, fears and aspirations, we build community. Though much has changed in the past 30 years, Morning Meeting has always been a part of our culture.
At a Monday morning meeting a couple of weeks ago, Linda talked about her job search. I am proud that we created such a safe and accepting environment that Linda was able to say that she’s nervous about the search and afraid no one will hire her. “I’ve never searched for a job, and I don’t know if I will have the skills employers are looking for,” Linda said. In the next breath she talked about how she was going about her search anyway and that even though she hasn’t ever looked for a job, she will not only search now, but find one. That determination to work toward her goal, even though she was nervous and afraid, was hope.
Meeting hope halfway
I feel fortunate. This is just one example, but I get to see hope in action every day, in big and small ways. I get to go to work and support women on their journeys to creating new lives. Every day I have the opportunity to be inspired by the women we serve. I get to witness their resilience and their hope.
And while this is certainly true, this job has also been humbling for me beyond measure. Because there is nothing special about me that has allowed me to be where I am today, other than the accident of birth and perhaps, on balance, some life choices that have allowed my privilege to carry me.
And so I feel compelled to ask, how does this knowledge that we are in the Hope business change how I show up every day and lead the organization? I think it means that while I am leading the Bean Project on its path, we will help others on theirs. I think it means that if the women we serve are willing to do the work to change their lives, that the best we can do is meet them on their journeys. They are on emotional journeys, certainly, but this emotional journey goes hand in hand with their employment journey.
Being in the Hope business requires that we recognize that the completion of the program is not really the end, but the launch of something more, something better. A year after graduating the program, over 90% of graduates still have jobs. And a steady job almost always lifts households out of poverty. The inherent dignity of work gives our graduate the opportunity to realize their limitless human potential.
Work creates value. It reinforces hope. And that’s our business.
Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO
Find the entire series of “Pearls: Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” here.