My Social Actions

The Lend4Health Journey: Losing the Way

A right-handed [wo]man, blindfolded and told to walk in a straight line. Inspired by observing the spiral path of an amoeba. Flickr photo by finnb

I've been focusing on Lend4Health "full-time" now for a month, and within this time I've watched and witnessed so much progress and forward motion. Yet much of it is invisible, intangible, unquantifiable. Every day this past month, some connection or another has been made, and while I can't tell yet how each will impact the future of Lend4Health, I have this rumbling-belly-sense that they will.

This is what happens when you start something without planning it out. This is what happens when you are an "accidental social entrepreneur." Each day feels more and more random, yet it feels like there is an organization to that randomness -- an organization that I myself did not create.

I realize that I am living out my favorite saying: "Kupotea njia ndiyo kujua njia" (Swahili) which roughly means, "To lose the way is to find the way."

Folks, I have completely lost "the way." I feel like I am bumbling around in a very dark hotel room and don't know where the furniture is, or where the light switch can be found. I want to shout, "Somebody! Turn on the light!" but I know I must find it myself, and that it is better that way.

On a daily basis now, I immerse myself in Twitter. I follow and converse with folks who I feel "know what they're doing." They know where the light switch is for their own projects, and in some cases, they own the whole damn hotel chain. Sometimes I have a 140-characters back-and-forth with them and feel like, hey, maybe I am part of that crew. But then they will say something incredibly "brain-iac" or well-thought-out or just plain academic, and I remember, "Oh yeah, I am clueless."

I did not ask to be part of this "space." I did not wake up one day and decide to thrust myself into the world of social change-making. I honestly had never even heard of "social change" until people started intimating that I was doing it. (And it took me a few weeks of conversation with Joe Solomon before I figured out what the heck a "social action" even was.)

This past month I have looked into applying for various social change-making grants because it seems like what I'm doing might qualify (and I'll need some funds eventually). But I look at the application forms and they ask big questions like "How will your organization change the world?" or "What is your theory for social change?" Ummmm, I don't know. Feeling dissatisfied with the strictly non-profit model, I looked into becoming a B Corp (H/T @p2173) but I got stuck at the part where it asks me what industry I'm in. In cases like these, I instinctively want to default to the "But I'm a good person!" reply that my husband and I jokingly use when Life gets too complex and we don't know how to deal.

I feel like a small-town kid in the middle of a bustling, competitive big city. I don't speak the language and I can't compute the currency. The world of nonprofit tech, social entrepreneurship, social graphs, social media, and "causes wired" (H/T @tomwatson) is enormous and seems to be growing and changing each day. Do I try to keep up? Do I pretend to be one of them?

Sometimes I get caught up in the hype and the glam. I get excited about creating the most amazing website in the world. I think about having an iPhone app and enabling mobile lending. I wonder if I have "shiny object syndrome" (H/T @kanter's blog).

Breathe deep. In. Out. Come to center.

My husband knows me well. He sees me flailing in the confusion and asks pointedly, "What are you trying to do?"

Innocently, I answer, "Help people."

"Then do THAT," he says.

There is so much I *don't* know. But I have realized this month that there is a lot I *do* know. And it is this: *I* am the foremost expert on Lend4Health. Like my own children, I know from whence it came, conceived with which intentions and born with which emotions. I know its shape and its smell; its imperfections and its glory. I have no idea what challenges it will face during puberty, or what it will become when it "grows up." I am amazed beyond words by its first ungraceful steps, and I will remain proud even if it develops more slowly than its peers. Nobody knows it better than me, and I am the one waking up in the middle of the night to feed and nurture it. This is what I know.

I believe that if I remember to stick to the basics -- stick to my original goal of helping people -- and continue to nurture the soul of this being I have created . . . the way will find me.

Views: 43

Tags: autism, confusion, entrepreneur, lend4health, microfinance, microlending, microloan, social, startup, struggle

Comment by Christine Egger on February 1, 2009 at 9:12am
Another gift here, Tori. Thank you. It's amazing to me that with *everything* you're doing, you're making time for these invaluable reflective posts.

One of my mentors used to talk about about "coming to center" as a process that requires your knowing what your center is, what it feels like to be acting from that place, and how to return to it when things feel confused. You're right: emanate from that place and you will attract all kinds of people-places-things that will fuel a Lend4Health that reflects your vision for it.

You've provided some valuable take-aways for me here, as someone whose become a little too comfortable tossing around the terminology you find yourself immersed in. If it takes months to figure out what a "social action" is, I'd say the Social Actions team has a little communications work to do ;) Helping any kind of "make the world a better place" initiative figure out its theory of change is a goal of mine, too. It's basically the answer to "You clearly think that what you're proposing here will have a positive impact. WHY do you think that? What is it about what you're planning to do gives you that impression?" It's what comes after "because" in: If ______, then ______, because ______. But that's still pretty vague. More concrete help on that will come to the Social Actions site sooner than it would otherwise because you've written about it here.

So yet again you're inspiring me to get better at what I do, and every time you learn out loud like this you're giving me permission and encouragement to do the same. I'm on a spiral learning path, too. It gets overwhelming and confusing when I don't give myself permission to just be right where I am, learning what I'm learning, returning to center with that new knowledge-perspective-resource-inspiration, and setting out anew.

Speaking of which, it's time to set out again. Will be carrying your gift with me. :)
Comment by Beth Kanter on February 1, 2009 at 11:25am
Hang in there - it's only been a month - real change takes time. It's normal to get discouraged - but I think you found your way with your last sentence:

"I believe that if I remember to stick to the basics -- stick to my original goal of helping people -- and continue to nurture the soul of this being I have created . . . the way will find me."
Comment by Jennifer Wells on February 1, 2009 at 6:54pm
Tori this is such a beautiful post. Your openness and honesty with yourself and the world resonate so loud when you write like this. Your videos show your genuine excitement and passion for what you're doing. Your courage to take this leap shows others "see? I did it and I'm still okay-you can be too." Not only in relation to Lend4Health matters...learning out loud like this helps others to realize they aren't alone in their thoughts and fears on their own journey. I agree totally with Christine and Beth, and remembering the goal-sticking to the basics of what you set out to do. Let that be your guiding light.
Comment by Lucy Bernholz on February 2, 2009 at 6:05pm
Wow - this is a great post. Change takes a lot of time, and clarity comes slowly - commitment, however, which seems to me more important than clarity, you've got in buckets. Its an honor to watch your work unfold.

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