This is Day 23 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Wasn’t Eric Klein’s post yesterday awesome? I love how he addresses the inner work we must do the build fierce loyalty. Today is a real treat for all of us as Mike Matchett shares a Heifer Project International story about a community in Nepal that was built on loyalty. SO excited about this!
A Community Built on Loyalty
By: Mike Matchett @mikematchett
Life lessons and inspiration can come from unexpected places. When Sarah asked me to write about creating community and fierce loyalty, I immediately thought of the women I met through my work with Heifer International in Nepal. These women have overcome staggering obstacles to lift their communities out of poverty.
They are not focused on their online communities, Twitter feeds or Facebook friends. But rather, quite literally, building the community around them. The lessons I have learned from them apply surprisingly well to my daily life.
You can watch the award-winning short film that inspired this post is here: http://vimeo.com/31042623
Heifer in a Nutshell
First, I need to briefly explain what Heifer International does around the world.
Heifer provides livestock and training for people in rural areas. It’s kind of like giving someone a small business because the livestock are income-generating through sales of the milk, eggs, wool, etc. The secret sauce is the extensive training and education that each recipient receives—in caring for the animals, improving crop yields and much more. I’ll focus on one key ingredient—what Heifer calls the cornerstone of “Pass on the Gift.”
Pass on the Gift, is the commitment each recipient makes to “pay it forward.” The assistance received from Heifer –an animal and training —is like a microloan that is only repaid when they “pass on” the offspring to others in the community.
The Story of Sita
Sita Poudel personifies this concept. One of my true heroes, she was living in poverty in southern Nepal when she helped form a group of local women and sought the assistance of Heifer International.
Sita and her fellow group members wanted to escape the grinding poverty they faced on a daily basis. Further, they lived in a society in which women had to ask their husbands’ permission just to leave the house and had no say in family matters, yet did most of the work. Boys were sent to school. Girls were thought to be unworthy of being educated.
The group was formed to improve conditions in the village. They went to a local bank to request a loan to buy goats. A goat is a life-changing asset in a country such as Nepal. They are a great source of income due to things like the milk, cheese and offspring that can be sold. The banker was surprised to be approached by a group of women and admired their courage. However, he refused their request because no men were guaranteeing the loan.
The women left the office vowing to one day start their own bank, so that others in need could have loans. They called their group “namura” meaning “example” because they aspired to be role models for other women in Nepal.
A short while later they learned of the opportunity to work with Heifer, which agreed to supply goats and training.
The women had to commit to months of training on how to care for the goats, the land and how to sell the by-products before receiving the goats. Because so many women joined the group, there would not be enough goats for each member. Many would have to wait several more months until the first goats had given birth. The offspring would be “pass-ons” from the initial recipients.
The group nearly fell apart at that point because no one wanted to wait. Young Sita led by example, and volunteered to be in the group that waited. All were silent initially, contemplating Sita’s gesture. And then, one by one, other women stepped forward to join the second group.
Months later, the time came to pass on the offspring to the second group. Many were reluctant, one even hiding her goats in another village. After some drama, including kicking out a member who refused to participate, the first pass on the gift ceremony took place.
The goats Sita received at the pass on ceremony were the runts of the litter. She was grateful, but vowed that when it was her turn, she would pass along the biggest and healthiest goats she could. Gradually, through her leadership, passing on the best, to assure the recipients would be successful, became a point of pride within the Heifer women’s groups in Nepal. People who had never been able to afford to give anyone anything before were now giving life-changing assets in the form of livestock. And giving felt good.
Through the proceeds from the program, Sita was able to move from a shack to a sturdy cement house. The structure she used to live in is now a barn. The group members made sure all the girls joined the boys in school and today a generation of girls are being educated in this part of Nepal.
Today, these women who could not get a loan, have achieved their goal of having a bank by building up a microcredit fund of over $10,000. After centuries of being voiceless, political parties now ask for their endorsement. They have built successful businesses and a thriving, tight-knit community.
And they didn’t stop there.
During regular group planning meetings, Sita and the others decided they should pass on the gift by helping women in other communities. They began going to other villages to help form groups that would be assisted by Heifer.
At first, they only mentored women from their caste. After some soul-searching, they decided it was time to reach across centuries-old caste barriers to mentor “untouchable” women in a neighboring village. It was shocking to many who had grown up having to bathe after coming into contact with an untouchable. Yet Sita and the others knew it was the right thing to do.
Initially the women of the lower caste, which are now called “Dalits,” were suspicious of a higher caste wanting to help them. But Sita persisted.
I have had the privilege of watching this and other villages transform over the years to become model communities. Now, I see the castes mixing like sisters.
Sita has continued training new groups and passing on the gift, despite threats from insurgents in her region of Nepal who do not want women to have a voice.
Inspiration and Lessons Learned
I have learned so much from these women who, by our standards, have so little. They made the most of an opportunity through their persistence, courage and amazing spirit. They focus on what is long-term and sustainable vs. the short-term, transactional focus we see so often in our society. Passing on the gift made for stronger, more loyal communities in Nepal and this contagious spirit is something that applies here at home, as well.
So, what about you? Where do you find inspiration? Do you listen for it from unexpected places?
Mike Matchett is a startup veteran, speaker and social entrepreneur. A decade ago he took a detour from running an apparel company he co-founded to lead marketing for Heifer International. Today, he represents Heifer in developing strategic alliances and partnerships and advises entrepreneurs and startups. He is currently on an international adventure with his family in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
P.P.S. Just in case you missed my announcement about my only live coaching retreat in 2012, you can catch up on the details (like there are only going to be 10 people there) and grab your seat here: http://www.escaping-mediocrity.com/entrepreneur-expedition-live-retreat/