At #bbcon I had the chance to listen to Nicholas Kristof. My background is in international development and in those circles, among others, the two-time Pulitzer prize winning journalist is something of a hero. He talked about his role as a journalist to ‘shine a light’ on the issues that organizations are addressing and few have shone as big and as bright a light on international issues as Mr. Kristof. Man-crush admission over.
In his 45 minute session, he covered everything from the value of storytelling, the struggle of partisan politics, Randomized Control Trials (RCT’s), the role of media for causes, demining rats, deworming children and teenage pregnancy rates in the US compared to Europe. So not much…
But the thing that struck me most was his charge and challenge to take a risk. To be bold. To do what’s right. To keep aspiring for something great. That in the face of overwhelming odds and a feeling that our acts may just be ‘drops in a bucket’, it is these simple things that we all can do that have ripple effects to change lives and our world.
It was a simple but powerful message for me but I think it is a good one for charities, fundraisers and those of you who work in the sector. You work long hours, often with little pay, reward or recognition, to try and solve problems that seem insurmountable. Impossible. And by yourselves, and your work in and of itself, it might be insurmountable. Impossible. Just a drop in a bucket.
But there is power in a drop.
Kristof told the story of a young man growing up in Alabama in the 1950’s who, embarrassed to read in public for fear of his image among other issues, stole a book that looked interesting from the library and read it in secret. He liked the book so much that he stole another book from the same author. And then another. And as he read, and stole, more books he discovered a new part of him. Something had been awakened. His love of reading and thirst for knowledge took his life down another path, out of a tough upbringing in a segregated society all the way to the Judge’s bench in the state of Alabama.
But that wasn’t the story – as amazing and inspiring as it was. The story was really about Mrs. Grady. She was the librarian at his school who, he would later find out, knew he stole those books. And not only did she know and turn a blind eye, but, motivated by seeing this boy show a new interest, would drive to Memphis, miles away, and buy more books from the same author. She would use money, out of her own pocket, and often had to visit two or three bookstores, on her own time, until she could find the books she thought this boy would keep reading.
That boy’s life journey on another path doesn’t happen without Mrs. Grady. And the change in the lives of the people you serve doesn’t happen without you.
You are Mrs. Grady. I am Mrs. Grady. We are all Mrs. Grady’s.
The work you do is important not because of its ability to solve the big huge problems facing our world, but in its ability to help that one person. Your work may be just a drop in the bucket… but there is great power in a drop.
Take a risk. Be bold. Do what’s right. Aspire for something great. Good luck.