I believe in the impossible. You don’t know how may times in my life someone said to me, “Wayne, you can’t do it. It’s too hard. It’ll never happen.” Well, I’ve done the impossible time and time again in the social sector.
If someone ever told Bill and Melinda Gates that they could not eradicate malaria, they would be proven wrong. Today, 3.3 million people are alive because of their work against this disease. Their audacious goal is to eliminate malaria within a generation.
In my new book, I write about Melinda Gates’ words, “Any goal short of eradicating malaria is accepting malaria; it’s making peace with malaria; it’s rich countries saying: ‘We don’t need to eradicate malaria around the world as long as we’ve eliminated malaria in our own countries.’ That’s just unacceptable.”
That’s powerful stuff.
I work with nonprofits, social enterprises and for-profits each day that are making an impact in society. It’s great when I speak to leaders who have the courage to stand up and make a statement about their vision that just seems improbable or impossible.
We know this world can be difficult and there are plenty of people out there who are looking to tear down individuals and their ideas. The Internet has exacerbated the issue because these days, organizations or individuals can suffer the wrath of armchair critics who can blast social media and try to inflict pain.
I know it’s not easy to strike out and make a bold claim. But, really, how else can any leader truly lead? In order for there to be leaders, there need to be followers, individuals who will take the vision and help make it a reality.
In my experience, followers or team members prefer to be part of something that is inspiring. They want to follow a leader who is resolute in his or her thinking. They want to be part of an enterprise that is truly looking to profoundly change the status quo, which may no longer be serving the community or the world at large.
Yes, Bill and Melinda Gates have the enormous financial resources to be able to proclaim that they are seeking to abolish malaria. But, they are working with a team of researchers, scientists and medical professionals, each who probably has their own followers. My bet is that each of these malaria experts who have direct access to the Gates’ is a committed leader who completely believes that malaria will be abolished within a generation.
And, when each of these experts returns back to his or her lab, they believe and communicate to their respective teams that malaria will be ended in their lifetimes. This, in turn, keeps their fellow colleagues working to accomplish that vision. It’s important to note that the reference to the parasite that causes malaria can be found as far back as 2700 B.C. So, for millennia, we have been dealing with this disease and I’m sure for generations people thought this disease would be something humanity would have to deal with and accept.
Now, let’s think about small nonprofits or social enterprises. They probably don’t have the financial wherewithal of the Gates Foundation. But, I have seen many leaders in the social sector who have an equally big vision. They are looking to collect a million shoes in order to provide entrepreneurial opportunities in developing nations. They are seeking to prevent every child from ever seeing the inside of a prison cell. They are working to provide every child in an under-resourced neighborhood with an education on par with the best private schools. They are committed to make sure no elderly shut-in ever has to be alone. They are looking to prevent the needless death of a single more endangered species and, moreover, to grow their populations again.
There are countless worthy missions. When you have leaders setting the course for accomplishing a big goal, perhaps even what’s seemingly an impossible goal, you will get followers and champions. And, eventually, with the right amount of luck and persistence, you will also find financial supporters and donors who will want to make the investment into making sure that goal becomes a reality.
Author of, “The Rise and Fail of Charities In the 21st Century: How The Nonprofit World Is Changing And What You Can Do To Be Ready.” Get your copy here.
© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.