Have you ever felt like you were in the right place at the right time?
It has only happened a handful of times for me, and it did again when I decided to go to Eastern Africa just four short weeks before my departure date. Although it was peak tourist season, everything fell into place at the last minute. I had no idea what was in store for me and how it would change my life. And a few weeks later, I am still processing it all.
After 30 hours of travel, I found myself in Uganda with five fellow advisors and sponsors of Akola, a nonprofit that empowers, educates and elevates disadvantaged women. As a member of the advisory board, I wanted to get more involved, and this was the perfect chance to see things firsthand. I met Brittany Merrill Underwood, who started this organization in Uganda at the young age of 19, through my work with the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Little did I know that meeting would ultimately lead me to Africa – and also allow me to play a role in Akola’s U.S. expansion.
Although I had seen the itinerary, I really didn’t know what to expect on this trip.
As we sat on the concrete floor of a modest 150-square-foot home of an Akola woman, she shared her story – one that began with extreme poverty and worry about basic needs like food and shelter. She talked in disbelief about how Akola had transformed her life. This woman, who by American standards would not be considered anywhere near wealthy, sounded like she had won the lottery. And she was ready to share what she had learned with others. She beamed as she told us that owning her own home, let alone being able to help others create a better life for themselves, was something she had never dreamed possible.
That home visit in a rural Uganda was such a moving experience. I have always believed in the Power of One: the power that one person has to make a difference. And in that moment, my belief was stronger than ever.
This experience reminded me how much each of us has to give – whether it’s on a small or large scale. A little bit of hope and reassurance goes such a long way.
The trip left me feeling compelled to use my years of business and leadership development experience to really help people like the women of Akola go beyond survival to truly thriving. And it reinvigorated my commitment to helping people see the value they have to offer, and how they can create a larger ripple effect.
Where these women were in their lives before Akola and what they have achieved is truly incredible. Sixty percent of them have gone from not having enough food to feed their children and other family members to earning a living wage, building their self-confidence and saving enough to start their own businesses. Akola has gone beyond giving these women hope, to instilling a strong belief in themselves and developing leadership skills.
I saw so many parallels with what motivates, inspires and gets results in the corporate world – painting a vision of the future, setting concrete goals, aligning rewards to incentivize the right behavior, using peers to drive accountability and investing in personal growth and development.
So, here I am back in the United States, wondering where this experience will ultimately take me. One of my first steps is to share some of it with you, to prompt you to think about the Power of One – the power each of us has to truly make a difference. What will you do this week to put it into play?