“In life, there is no person, thing or event that is without purpose.”
– Vicente Ferrer
The good thing about our situation today is that the challenging circumstances in our midst are pushing us to redefine, innovate and experiment way beyond what we’re used to when we feel more secure. Our comfort zones are stretching and with this come new discoveries. This is the powerful alternative to remaining passive, negative or waiting for salvation from external sources.
In the recent months, I have met many fascinating people and organizations in the wake of my own redefinition. But one of the most inspiring has been the Vicente Ferrer Foundation. If you’re not yet acquainted with them, it is the foundation established by Vicente Ferrer, a Spaniard, and his wife Anna Perry, who in the last 40 years have deeply transformed the lives of more than 2.5 million “untouchables” – the poorest and longest suffering population – in India. Their reach and support has been so broad that it has included dramatic improvements in areas such as health, food, education, human rights, women’s equality and agriculture, to name just a few. But what is so amazing is that they achieved this in nearly impossible conditions.
Aside from my admiration of their development and results, I was also deeply inspired by their model – their vision, philosophy and processes – that they implemented in order to achieve such a powerful transformation. In recent months I have had the pleasure of working with them, learning more about their history and as a result, organizing an upcoming event for them in my restaurant, Anfora Food + Drink (stay tuned because we are very excited and ambitious for the project we intend to fund with the profits).
But while reading the book “A Covenant of Love” by Ana Ferrer and enjoying some great conversations with their Regional Director of Valencia & Murcia, Sergio Moratón (a man so inspiring in his dedication to their cause) something occurred to me: we have much to learn from the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and the brave people of the untouchable population who together have made possible the staggering transformation of suffering in these people’s lives.
It’s easy to think that because of their differences in culture, education and the like, they have little to do with us. But this cannot be further from the truth. The crisis, problems, questions and disappointments we experience these days are truths of humanity, as much as theirs. And what they have taught us year after year is that it is people, up to the most poor, sick and suffering, who transform our reality and create opportunities in order to create great, positive changes. Not governments, banks or corporations.
How? First of all, with the full commitment to do so. Regardless of the circumstances or what others may think is possible. You don’t have to believe me, just get to know a little more of their reality.
In this article, I highlight some key strategies that the Vicente Ferrer Foundation has employed, in collaboration with millions of untouchables, to realize the seemingly “impossible” changes of circumstances far worse than what many of us face today.
Please read it, think about it, discuss it with your loved ones and share with us your comments. And if you can, support us in our upcoming event that we will launch shortly.
1) * We have to do it *, “no” is not an option.
One of cornerstones of the their story is that the Foundation has always faced absolutely impossible conditions. Or actually, nearly impossible because in the end, they were able to achieve their goals and far more. Vicente Ferrer was the visionary, the inspiration, and his wife, the executive of his visions.
As Anna says,
“Never mind the problems.
It didn’t matter that we had no funds.
That we were continuously harassed by bureaucrats and politicians.
That it seemed impossible.
Nothing mattered except move forward!
We believed we could overcome anything.
We believed in Vincent.
We believed in ourselves.
We believed in our organization: everything and anything was possible. “
That is, they never considered whether or not to move forward, but rather, how. When we stop considering whether something is possible, everything focuses on how to make it happen. This, in fact, is the approach of many famous multinational companies and the recipe behind their success. You want to grow 5%, which seems inconceivable? Build a strategy to grow 70% and place all your best efforts towards achieving it. In the end, you will grow 15% (an actual case) but the result is still a lot more than you thought possible.
What does this mean for us?
We have a lot more power than we think to change our own circumstances and those of our community. But until we begin to act in this manner, taking responsibility for our own success, initiating positive movements and working with gusto to achieve it, we cannot expect any real change. People often ask, “how can I do this if I’m not sure it will work?” The truth is we can never predict anything, even five minutes from now. But the probability of success lies in the way you dedicate yourself to it in the first place. That is how we start to mold our own reality and the possibilities to come.
2) Before you reach for the heavens, work with what is in your hands.
What Vincent and his team understood so well is that before tackling any more advanced topics such as education, human rights and the equality for women, they had to treat the most urgent needs of the people they wanted to help. In this case, clean water, nutrition, sanitation and stable housing. It was critical to first get to know them, listen to them, and understand their lifestyle, beliefs and deepest concerns. When these people saw that the Vicente Ferrer Foundation was truly dedicated to curing their gravest needs, they themselves became involved and invested in the change process, thus establishing a relationship of empathy, trust and collaboration that became the foundation of their successful transformation.
For example, the first initiative dedicated to getting children to go to school (which for many untouchables was hard to adopt as they believed children were more useful at home) was to offer students free meals at school. Thus the parents were given an incentive of reduced costs that helped keep these children in school over a considerable period of time, receiving both food and education. Today, after extended mutual collaboration between the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and the local population, they have established more than 2,100 schools, a rise in the literacy rate of women from 2% to 99%, with more than 89,300 students finishing elementary school, 76,800 completing high school, and more than 1,400 in pre-university studies. Education has become a priority for everyone.
What does this mean for us?
If as a professional or entrepreneur you have innovative ideas to improve your business or organization or those of your clients, start by creating solutions to the most urgent problems. Think from the perspective of your boss or customer and what they need the most. If you can show them your value by first addressing these important issues, they will be much more willing to hear your other ideas and collaborate on anything else you want to offer and achieve. But until we start thinking from the point of view of our key audiences and meeting their basic needs, we cannot hope to advance in anything else.
3) It has to be yours, for it to succeed.
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation operates under the key philosophy that instead of being the superhero that commands and implements solutions for others, they have educated, trained and empowered the untouchable population to make their own decisions, take their own responsibility and execute the improvements that they so desperately need.
One important case was the building of stable housing for families that they correctly identified as a key priority to affording them the security and dignity these people needed in order to move forward. The Foundation educated the community on how to sell wheat to get construction materials and how to organize and execute the construction of quality houses. But even more impressive was that when there was a need for 75 houses and it was only possible to build 15, they left the decision of who will receive these new homes to the untouchable community. So what happened? Instead of competing for these properties, they as a community, convened to select the people and families most in need. Thus, a single mother of five children was one of those chosen to receive a home that allowed her to care for her family and live with greater security.
When the untouchable community became implicated in participating and managing the initiatives to improve their own existence, they took responsibility, demonstrated deep generosity and achieved great effectiveness far more powerful than if the Foundation had insisted on handling these projects themselves. More importantly, they gave them the opportunity and resources to, from this moment on, be more informed, prepared and accountable for their own good and development.
What does this mean for us?
If we want to inspire any employee, customer, partner, sponsor or contact to engage in the initiatives we want to achieve, we have to make them part of the process. What does this mean? Listen to them, ask their opinion and respect their point of view. Encourage them to participate and when they do, motivate them to continue doing so. Give them the opportunity and independence to take responsibility and accountability to develop their part of the project. Have meetings that truly inspire everyone to talk and share ideas openly. Appreciate that everyone is different and ensure that even the person who goes against the grain is respected and recognized for their contribution.
And finally, when appropriate, give the training, advice and support to make them feel recognized, capable, motivated and prepared to find their own solutions and implement them.
4) We need each other.
One person is still one person, however smart and wonderful they can be. But phenomenal changes tend to happen in groups. Vicente was a fantastic and transformational person and without his inspiration, the advances of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation would not have been possible. But neither would they have occurred without the invaluable help and dedication of his wife, teams and the diverse and brave untouchable population.
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation fully believes in the power of communities. If you were to ask them how the untouchable women began to fight for their rights they would tell you that there was no aggressive battle. Some of them had self-selected themselves to be the first to lead the initial changes. And these women, as well as those that followed – not to mention the little girls who had the motivation, dedication and courage to continue going to school – were the communities of women who supported each other and served as witnesses to create strength and continue moving forward. Together, they mobilized to empower the rest to show their value in simple, elegant but highly determined ways. This is personal power at its core.
What does this mean for us?
Concepts of competition, egocentrism and exclusionary independence have to go. There are many ways to collaborate, connect and complement the work of others without reducing or destroying your own value. Indeed, it can often bring even more opportunities. Furthermore, when you are capable of demonstrating generosity, goodwill and vision to combine forces and help others, you can attain a level of trust and respect that cannot be gained in other ways.
More than ever, our clients, colleagues and contacts need to feel assured that the people they choose to connect with, in whatever manner, will always be honest and give their very best. As well, that they will continue to add value in the form of information, contacts and ever more opportunities. Consider it from your own point of view: what motivates you to hire, work or spend time with a person?
5) Everything good takes time and effort.
The Foundation has had the patience and wisdom to respect the time needed to achieve their goals for the sake of others. And they did it by taking small, consistent and determined steps towards their vision, which is the key to a successful transformation.
One of their programs provides support to untouchable women in starting their own businesses. But instead of giving them all the necessary funds upfront, they have established a savings process over the course of seven years, allowing these women the adequate time to clarify their ideas and really dedicate themselves to their project. Once these entrepreneurs collect their full savings, they are fully prepared to make thoughtful decisions and efforts in achieving their dreams. And the results speak for themselves. The Foundation has been able to recognize and respect the natural evolution of a person and their ideas, wisely understanding that everything good takes time and work to create real success.
What does this mean for us?
All the crisis problems these days, both moral and economic, need their own time and effort to be resolved. There is no magic pill, but we all know this already. However, we have to keep pushing, motivating, innovating and evolving to open doors and bring the best of ourselves to any valued opportunity that may arise. If you are an entrepreneur, executive, professional, or student the key to success is continuously insisting on searching for good contacts and opportunities, maintaining a positive and proactive perspective and planting seeds for the future. That is, many of our current efforts may not bring immediate results. But they will eventually, if we are strong enough to continue developing them. This is not always easy. So connect to others who are doing the same.
6) If you are truly dedicated and working from the heart, success is assured.
This quote is from Anna Perry and really should not be the last because for me it is first. Consider it thoughtfully. If you can really identify what drives you, personally and professionally, and effectively mobilize towards achieving it, you cannot fail. You cannot fail.
Failure is when you stop doing something when doing so is not your best option. That is, you give up. But if you find a real source of motivation and keep working and fighting towards it, you will find solutions even when things seem at their worst.
This is the heart of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and it could be ours as well.
I cannot give up when, despite all the good and bad that I have seen in life, it has given me a sunny morning, a smile on my daughter’s face, a grateful client or the inspiration that I have in pursuing my dreams and helping others do the same. Can you?
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation has worked with millions of people to help them create a life with dignity, security, health, education and possibility when they could not imagine anything beyond suffering. They empowered them to create hope for the future.
And the future, is ours as well.