What I Learned From 25 Women Who Overcame the Harshest Conditions to Build an Organization of 7,500

What I Learned From 25 Women Who Overcame the Harshest Conditions to Build an Organization of 7,500

Today was one of those days I’ll never forget. Fighting tears, I listened to the stories of several women who faced physical and psychological abuse, starvation, horrific living conditions, and a complete loss of hope for any life different from rats and pigs.

That was 1993. And thankfully, today is a different day. But it wouldn’t have been if 25 women from one community hadn’t decided to do something about their horrible plight. These women got together and went to the local bank for a loan to buy livestock that would help their community grow and prosper. Not surprisingly, the bank said, “No.” After all, they were women.

When they got home, many of them faced physical abuse for such an act and all of them were ridiculed for stepping out of “their place.” End of story, right?

Not by a mile. They weren’t done.

If the bank wasn’t going to give them any money, then they would begin to save every little bit they could until they could build up enough funds to buy one goat for one member of the group. After a few months, they had enough and visited the local livestock office. That’s where they met Mahendra Lohani. I’ve written about him in an earlier post. Mahendra, now a full-time executive with Heifer International in Little Rock, Arkansas, was a Heifer volunteer while working at the local livestock office. He asked these women if they’d be interested in a Heifer project where each of them would receive two goats and training on how to raise them and leverage them to grow their communities and other communities around them.

“Lau…hamile tyai tha khojeko ni Sir.” That basically means, “Duh – that’s what we’ve been looking for,” in Nepalese.

Fast forward 11 years. Now more than 7,500 people across more than 30 communities are carrying out the vision of these women. Some billion-dollar companies don’t have 7,500 employees.

I asked these women how they do it?

For them, it’s all about the values that they live out individually and organizationally. These 12 values are called the 12 Cornerstones:

  1. Pass on the gifts you receive to others to share in.
  2. Embrace accountability.
  3. Share with others and care for others, always.
  4. Build sustainable processes and be self-reliant.
  5. Continuously improve animal/resource management.
  6. Increase income and promote nutrition.
  7. Promote gender equality and be family-focused.
  8. Identify genuine need and assure justice.
  9. Improve your environment.
  10. Fully participate.
  11. Prioritize training, education and communication.
  12. Grow spiritually.

When I listen to these ladies present these values, it comes down to a few simple rules for me – respect and love each other. When you do that, you build trust.

The reason these women have been so successful in building such a large and productive organization is because they’ve gained the trust of others in a low-to-no trust culture. They gained trust because they loved and respected others.

Even large organizations should emphasize love and trust over processes and policy.

By the way, the Chitwan, Nepal Women’s Group Coordination Committee (WGCC) – the non-governmental organization that guides the 7,500 participants, has no policy handbook. They don’t feel they need it. They run by values.

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