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A Community Built on Loyalty [Day 23 – 28 Days to BFL]


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:

12 Stones from Heifer International on Vimeo.

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.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyaltyplease sign up here.

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:

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  • Oh my gosh. I almost started crying from this story. I saw so many similar examples in both Guatemala and Zimbabwe on trips I’ve taken to work with the communities there. It is so beautiful to watch people put their communities’ long term sustainability ahead of their temporary discomfort. Everyone doesn’t always win, but when they do … ah, they REALLY do. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m definitely coming back to watch the video later today.

    • Mike Matchett

      Thanks so much for your kind words and insight.  Let me know what you think of the film!

  • Thank you so much for sharing this story. I’ve heard of this organization, but honestly hadn’t looked into it enough to realize what they do. Being in direct sales, this story spoke volumes to me about how we, as women in this industry have an unbelievably powerful capacity to create possibilities for others that did not exist for them.
    Thank you for educating me today and for giving me such a strong feeling of empowerment today!

    • MikeMatchett

      Thank you for the comments and for mentioning empowerment–that is really a key to making things happen–whether it’s in your workplace or a village in Nepal!

  • Thank you, Mike. Such a good reminder of how empowerment creates inspiration and engagement. Not that it’s simple, in any community – and I’m sure the pain and trauma in this tale was deeply felt, without any clue how transformational the experience would turn out to be. My vision is to create inspiration within communities, wherever they are, and this is a very timely, very powerful example.

    • MikeMatchett

      Terrific, Joanna–glad this helps inspire you to change your community!

  • Carla K.

    This story is illustrating what I iam learning to do best in my business, pass on the gift of the business opportunity, and teach other women how to sell the products and pass on the opportunity themselves. Wasn’t it Zig Zigler who sead , “IF you help enough people get what they want, you in return, get what you want.”

    Great post.  Ir just confirmed I am doing the right thing by being a Direct Sales/Party Plan Entrepreneur.

  • An amazing story Mike. That’s paying it forward in a huge way.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Blancolin

    Moved and inspired by this story. And I’m especially impressed by the action to reach out and involve women from a lower caste, and the courage to continue the process despite threats from insurgents who want women to be muted. Nice to know that Sita and others have garnered some financial rewards for their work as well as a hefty amount of good karma. I don’t own a business, but I will purposefully adopt a mantra of paying it forward in my advisory roles.

    • MikeMatchett

      Thank you for sharing how their story is moving you to pass it on!

  • When I think of building a community, I think more domestically rather than foreign. A friend of mine used to live in a town where she knew no one. With her husband’s job, they had to move often and she just never settled in. When she moved to our town, she vowed it wouldn’t be the same again. She started a local community for mothers – just a support group, but one that connects mothers to help one another and to help our community. She is my source of inspiration! She reminds me very much of Sita.

  • annettenack

    Is there a *love* button for this post?!  I love Sita’s story.  She is the kind of person that I would be honored to know; she is exactly the reason why so many of us are where we are.  We all know people who are like Sita- maybe not realizing it or maybe not feeling like they are- but they have made our lives richer by encouraging us to look past ourselves and see what sometimes difficult changes need to be made.  And how cool is it that she was intimately involved in breaking age-old traditions even at risk of great harm to herself?!

    This past Christmas was the 3rd year that I’ve been gifted with something from Heifer International.  My brother knows me well & he knew that this *gift* would mean so much to me.  If you’ve never checked out their website, please do! It will open your eyes to see what a small donation can do to make a huge difference for others!

    One day, I’m going to gift an ark to someone.  One day!  :  )

    Thanks again Mike!  I really appreciated your post today!

    • annettenack

      Oh & as far as inspiration goes, I was actually having that conversation this morning with a friend.  He’s thinking of doing his 1st triathlon.  I suggested he look up Team Hoyt for some inspiration.  Not exactly the same as Sita, but just like her, it shows the depth of love & caring for others!  Whenever I need a little boost, I think of the father/son duo of Team Hoyt & I’m instantly inspired & grateful!

    • MikeMatchett

      Thanks so much for the kind words. 

  • Hard to top that. Truly inspirational. Amazing to think that such small beginnings could grow into something so rewarding.
    If politicians could be encouraged to engage with  the womenpower available  what a different place the world would be.

  • I adore Heifer Project; thank you for your work with them and thank you for talking about it here. I suspect that this is a community with deep sympathy for Heifer Project’s goals, and if anybody here isn’t aware of the work Heifer Project does, they probably should be!

    When you wrote about Sita deciding to pass on the best and strongest goat kids, so that the next woman would have the best possible chance to succeed, I was strongly reminded of the free gifts (webinars, e-books, pdfs…) many of us give in an effort to build loyalty for our businesses. There’s often a concern, I think, that if we give too much away, the recipients won’t need anything further from us, and it won’t be sustainable. I’ve seen a few people (nobody here!) decide to advertise a free thing which would be extremely helpful- if only it lived up to that advertising, instead of being just a teasing taste of their paid program. Your post has me feeling a renewed commitment to carefully choose something to help people with- not an offer to solve all of the problems I can help with, but a finite step- and then make sure that whatever I offer gives the best possible chance of success with it. Giving away the runt of the litter, then trying to sell people your Super Goat Growth Formula, isn’t real generosity and isn’t what you do if your goal really is someone else’s success.

  • Thanks for this story Mike! It makes doing good seem so doable. I love the legacy lesson you shared of Sita “passing on the best.” A reminder to not hold back or reserve our best goods, our best selves, our highest aspirations. You’re such a wonderful model yourself! xo

  • Oh, wow… I have to admit I have been surprised by some turns in your story… I guess it shows we are humans, after all, not perfect beings. I like the idea of passing on the best – usually what goes around, come right back at you 🙂

    Thanks for sharing – a truly inspiring story.

  • A great post Mike. All this talk about how to build community can miss the point you make here. You build it almost subconsciuosly starting from your heart’s desire. Starting from that thing that motivates you to take action. And it will not be about making the money. It will be about making your heart sing, lifting others up, changing the status quo.

    thank you, Giulietta

  • jPeter78

     This reminds me

  • rmsorg

    @332739f44b972e6a094f209083d6c93a:disqus  What an amazing and inspiring story!  Love how women have realized there is strength in numbers and doing the right thing and giving without expecting anything in return really does come back to you ten fold!  I love this type of stories and admire the women who are spearheading these incredible movements and changing the lives of many in the process!I personally find my inspiration in my spiritual believes and it has allowed me to take the focus off of me and mine and place it on others.Thank you for this gift you have given us!