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. They will also highlight how we continue to inspire and be inspired by the women in our program while they are working with us and long after they’ve launched.
Why is What Matters
There’s What We Do
At Women’s Bean Project, we believe all women have the power to transform their lives through employment. We know that when a woman changes her life, she changes her family’s life. This is the true purpose of our work. And yet, in the day to day, it can be easy for us to default to merely communicating what we do. At Women’s Bean Project we sell products to create jobs to hire women to help them change their lives. We teach job readiness and life skills and help women transition into career entry-level jobs. There are certainly many lessons we have learned in our 30 years about what skills are relevant to the women we serve and the employers for whom they’ll eventually work, as well as how best to impart those skills in a way that resonates.
But the larger lesson we have learned was reinforced when I watched my first video from Simon Sinek, during which he (now famously) said, “People don’t care about what you do, they care why you do it.” As the leader of a social purpose organization I had learned this lesson, but Simon gave me the language to express it. Why is what matters.
Then There’s Why We Do It
In our most recent strategic plan, finalized last fall, we set an overarching goal to “Serve more women better.” As we implement this plan, every department and individual staff member will have their own role in supporting this goal and building up the Bean Project for the future. The goal itself speaks to what is referred to as our “theory of change.” A theory of change is how organizations home in on the main problem they are trying to solve, the actions they will take to solve the problem and what outcomes and impact they expect to see as a result. These are all important parts of building a strong, effective organization. However, for any of the actions or outcomes to matter, they must be built on a strong foundation. This foundation must include clarity on one question: why does the work matter?
“Why” gets to the emotion of our work, our reason for being. If we forget our why, the what and how of our work matters less. At the Bean Project we know employment is the key to women’s future success. And we believe learning to work by working is essential.
Because Economic Empowerment is Crucial for Change
Our work at Women’s Bean Project matters because studies conducted throughout the world show economic empowerment through employment is central to women feeling control over their own time, lives and bodies. It matters because economic empowerment gives women greater voice and the ability to self-advocate at every level, from their home to all other interactions in the community. And, research shows that daughters of employed mothers have higher academic achievement, greater career success and greater commitment to maintaining employment themselves. When a mother works, it can break the cycle of poverty in a family. Other data show employment is the key to breaking out of poverty and staying out of prison. In fact, the number one indicator of re-arrest is unemployment in the year prior to the arrest.
But Why Does it Matter?
Why? Because perhaps we can provide services so effective and far reaching so as to ensure that each woman we serve is the last in her family to need us.
Why? Because the seeds of hope planted in one woman expand to families and communities and create a ripple of possibility.
Why? Because the experience of discovering their talents and skills at the Bean Project helps the women we serve begin to believe in themselves and believe they are worthy of a better life.
That’s why we do what we do.
Photo in header image by Kenzie Bruce Photography.