The power of story in our work

RESULTS IC

Join us at the 2015 RESULTS International Conference in Washington, D.C., this July 18-21. Leading poverty experts, activists, policymakers, and YOU will convene for a unique conference that mixes an educational experience and advocacy opportunities around increased access to education, health, and economic opportunity. Together, we can change the world!

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This article was originally posted by RESULTS on June 09, 2015. Re-posted with permission.

>>Authored by Kristy Martino, U.S. Poverty Organizer, RESULTS

Last week, the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) and TalkPoverty.org presented a fantastic webinar on the importance of telling your story. As advocates, we may understand the value of statistics, lobby meeting “leave behinds”, and fact sheets, but we sometimes forget the need for powerful stories.

As RESULTS gears up for our annual International Conference, we are looking for ways to elevate the voices of the real experts in poverty, and support them to tell their story – a key element in creating change.

The Community Voices: Why Nutrition Assistance Matters webinar is a resource for those new to, or nervous about, sharing their experiences. It’s also a great reminder that legislators and those in power learn from stories, both good and bad. In a climate where misinformation is rampant, it is critical we not only bring facts to the table, but also humanize our issues, putting a face (or rather, many diverse faces) to the problems and the solutions, as many of the programs we fight for (e.g. the Earned Income Tax CreditChild Tax Credit, and SNAP) are successful programs that lift millions out of poverty.

As Greg Kaufman, editor of TalkPoverty.org said during the webinar, “In DC, we have plenty of numbers, plenty of data. What’s lacking is experts with a seat at the table; stories of real people.”

Tammy Santiago, from Witnesses to Hunger, shared her story and how she found the confidence to tell it. She drew from her own personal experience growing up in Boston. She saw so many around her with the same struggles who didn’t have the strength or ability to speak up, so she felt obligated to do it for them. “I hope that others listening to what I share will feel empowered and obligated to share their voices too-it’s needed,” Tammy said. “I’m not just a number, I’m an individual.”

To learn more about this new project from CHN and other coalition allies, download the presentation slides or listen to the recording of the webinar. RESULTS is also working to lift the voices of these “experts” who have witnessed the impacts of poverty first-hand. Some of them will share their stories at the RESULTS International Conference, July 18-21 in Washington, DC.  We hope to have more exciting news about our work with our “Experts on Poverty” in the coming weeks.

We are all lobbyists

RESULTS is hosting its 35th annual International Conference on Capitol Hill in Washington DC from July 18th to July 21st, featuring many leading poverty experts, activists. and policy makers.

Join us at the 2015 RESULTS International Conference in Washington, D.C., this July 18-21. Leading poverty experts, activists, policymakers, and YOU will convene for a unique conference that mixes an educational experience and advocacy opportunities around increased access to education, health, and economic opportunity. Together, we can change the world!

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This article was originally posted by RESULTS on June 23, 2015. Re-posted with permission.

>>Authored by Susan Fleurant, 2015 RESULTS U.S. Poverty Campaigns Intern

I arrived in Washington, D.C. this summer for an internship at RESULTS with only the certainty of ceaseless heat and humidity and not fully knowing what else to expect. Then on June 9, I went to Capitol Hill and lobbied for the first time with Bread for the World, an anti-hunger organization. Lobbying is a word that carries with it a heavily negative connotation, a word that evokes images of wealthy businessmen persuading legislators one way or another. As a student pursuing a career in policy, I always said that I would never be a lobbyist, because I subscribed to this professional and negative definition of the word. While much of politics in the United States these days does involve the interests of wealthy corporations and professional lobbyists, the reality is that we can all be lobbyists.

It is easy to forget that Congress works for us, the voters. Our votes put people into office, and our votes can remove people from office. Yes, that oversimplifies the process, and while I acknowledge the role of campaign finance and special interests in both the campaign and legislative processes, citizens are not doing enough to change what has become the not-so-pleasant status quo of American politics. The truth is, the United States has abysmal voter turnout, yet a high percentage of the population complains about those in office and policy decisions that are made.

So what are we doing about it? Complaining to our neighbors and coworkers about the state of the nation will not move us in a new direction. We need to channel our concerns and our visions for the future of the country into positive civic engagement. We need to teach our children the importance of voting and the significance of civic engagement in maintaining a healthy democracy. As citizens of a representative democracy we have the opportunity to speak with our representatives whether through writing a letter, making a phone call, or scheduling an in-person meeting, and we must exercise these rights. Too few people take advantage of these opportunities, leaving lobbying to the groups that give the act its negative connotation. This lack of engagement is likely the result of a cynical view towards American politics in general paired with a lack of knowledge about the avenues available for engagement and correspondence. This is where educators and parents play a key role in providing the information from a young age about the variety of ways to engage in our democracy in order to demystify the process.

As I sat in a senator’s office on Capitol Hill speaking with a legislative advisor about why child nutrition programs are important, providing factual evidence paralleled with a personal story, I realized that I was a lobbyist, and it was perhaps one of the most democratic acts in which I could take part. I felt both empowered and perturbed. Empowered because I realized that I could lobby and make my voice heard on Capitol Hill, and perturbed because I did not understand why it took me this long to realize that. I feel lucky to have had this opportunity now before I carried on with a skewed idea of lobbying.

I think that government is too often presented as a separate entity to which average citizens do not have access, and this sentiment undermines democracy by leaving people uneducated about their ability to participate in the political system. Voting is often the extent of political participation for many people, and others do not even make it that far. It is time for us to reexamine our democracy and encourage active engagement through a variety of means. Lobbying is not just wealthy corporations and special interest groups; lobbying is citizens writing letters, making phone calls, and stopping by for visits. Get out there and lobby, trust me, it is empowering. You can make a difference. Share your concerns, describe your visions for the future, tell your personal stories, and make your voice heard. In the end, we are all lobbyists.

Want to have your own experience lobbying on Capitol Hill? Join RESULTS and attend the International Conference.

Why go to an advocacy conference?

Join us at the 2015 RESULTS International Conference to learn new skills, hear from experts, and raise your voice on Capitol Hill this July 18th to 21st.

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This blog post was cross-posted from Cynthia Changyit Levin’s blog (@ccylevin), Anti-Poverty Mom: Raising my voice & my kids on May 13, 2015. Re-posted with permission.

To all my readers raising tiny children and learning to advocate, I’m going to say something to you that may sound a little crazy. I think it’s time you go to an advocacy conference in Washington D.C. Many advocacy organizations with a national presence that have been around for a good number of years have conferences in D.C. where you can learn from experts about your issue, hear inspirational speakers, and lobby your members of Congress. If you can rustle up the child care, I think you should find one you like and go to it!

“What? Take three days away from my baby? You’ve got to be kidding me! I don’t have that kind of time for myself!” That was exactly my reaction when someone suggested that I learn more about hunger and advocacy by going to the Bread for the World Gathering. I was a new activist, full of excitement about my very first letter to the editor recently published in the local paper. The Bread organizer at my church recognized potential in me to be a powerful activist and thought the best way for me to get involved would be to jump right in and go to a conference and lobby day event. It was so flattering to me that she thought so, but…what about the baby?

At the 2008 RESULTS International Conference with fellow RESULTS champions for education at the White House

It turns out I did go. The baby was just fine for a whole weekend with my husband and it was a life-changing experience for me. I heard inspirational, international speakers who convinced me that I — as an American citizen — had a powerful voice to influence the course of poverty throughout my country and the world. I started relationships with like-minded people who would become critical in helping me not feel alone in my desire to make the world a better place. I learned advocacy skills that I took home and would eventually teach to others in my community. It was a thrilling leap into the pool of activism when I’d been just sitting on the edge dangling my toes. Not only did I go to the Bread gathering that year, but I met RESULTS activists there who encouraged me to go to their conference the following year. Much later, my participation at those conferences led to invitations to the Shot@Life Summit and the ONE #AYASummit. Each conference has brought me new connections, new skills, and new confidence in myself.

You might be thinking, “Great for her, but not for me. I’m too busy to add a work conference in the middle of my life.” Fair point. That’s what I thought, too. Yet I want to share six things a conference can allow you to do that are much harder at home in your regular routine…

“You wouldn’t leave a cutie like me just to go learn how to save the world, would you? You would!?!”

  1. Take a break.
    Step away from the children, Ma’am. Your absence will be felt, but joyful side benefits to taking a few days away may include increased child-bonding with daddy, grandparents, or friends who watch them in your absence.
  2. Get a full night of sleep.
    One of my favorite things about a conference is getting real, deep sleep. A fellow activist once asked me what my plans for the evening were. I gave him a huge smile when I said “I’m going back to my room!” He joked that I was so happy about it that he wondered if there was a romantic plan up there for me. No, sirree! That’s just how much I like sleep with nobody needing a diaper change!
  3. Get out of your everyday routine.
    When you are away from the mundane, it’s somehow easier to see yourself as the exceptional, powerful individual you are. Shake it up and make some memories to think about when your back to making lunches.
  4. Be appreciated by someone over two feet tall.
    Toddlers are cute, but sometimes they aren’t the best at conveying that you are smart, capable, and valued. Sometimes they do it when they wrap those pudgy fingers around you and say, “I wuv ooo,” but it can feel like they take it all back when they dump applesauce on your lap immediately afterward.
  5. Dive deep into the facts.
    I don’t know about you, but I have immense trouble holding facts in my head when I’m trying to multitask with yelling infants. Not having to double and triple check the contents of your diaper bag really opens up a lot of space in your brain that you can fill with all sorts of information about your issue!
  6. Make some new friends.
    Not since college had I had such rich opportunities to come together to meet new and interesting people with a common goal. Some of my closest friends now are people I look forward to seeing at conferences each year.
  7. Lobby!
    Nothing convinces a member of Congress that you are serious more than the statement that you are a volunteer traveling on your own time to talk to them.
2013 Shot@Life Summit with my BFF's Jen DeFranco and Myrdin Thompson

2013 Shot@Life Summit with my BFF’s Jen DeFranco and Myrdin Thompson

Can’t afford a plane ticket to Washington D.C.? Scholarship or financial assistance is often available for first-time or low-income attendees. If I didn’t have one for my first conference, I wouldn’t have gone. Some organizations are willing to bet that if they invest in you by assisting you to attend once, you’ll have a great experience and want to come back again. If you are a low-income parent and want to talk to your members of Congress about poverty, then you are a valuable voice that needs to be added to the chorus.

If you’re still not sure it’s the right thing to leave your child for three days to go to a conference, just remind yourself why you are doing it. Is it to create a better world for your child? Is it to improve the lives of parents and children who are facing much more difficult situations than the travel dilemma you are facing now? Will this be a step in making you a more empowered, more satisfied mommy? These are very good reasons.

It’s true that if you go, there will be times you miss your children. There will likely be tears when you leave and when you get home. But I encourage you to take the leap for yourself and all the people in the world you want to help. You won’t be sorry!

The Business of Doing Good: A Chat with Anton Simanowitz

BizofDoingGoodCover

The Business of Doing Good by Anton Simanowitz and Katherine Knotts

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Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, recently sat down with Susy Cheston, senior advisor to FI2020, and Anton Simanowitz, co-author of the new book The Business of Doing Good, to discuss how organizations can do good work and turn a profit, particularly in the microfinance sector.

In exploring this question, Simanowitz draws on key insights from the new book, in which he and co-author Katherine Knotts studied the success of AMK, a social enterprise which has touched the lives of millions of people living in poverty in rural Cambodia. This study revealed six powerful strategies to improve business to do good:

  1. Don’t just offer products; respond to client needs
  2. Ask good questions and have good conversations
  3. Do what it says on the tin
  4. Motivate staff to do difficult work in an excellent way
  5. Own the dirt road
  6. Adapt to the changing landscape

Find out more about the thinking behind these insights.

In the latter half of the book, the authors explore the disconnect between theory and practice and the resulting implications for client value. AMK’s success is largely attributed to its recognition of the distinction between client wants and client needs, which are rooted in the meaningful conversations the organization has with its clients. The authors observe, through their exploration of AMK, that vision is ensured only when it follows intent, instead being constrained by conventional wisdom.

Simanowitz was here in D.C. yesterday to discuss his book with Larry Reed and Susy Cheston on-site at the Center for Financial Inclusion. He spoke about the importance of conversation in the social sector, both with customers and within the organization itself. From his exploration of AMK, Simanowitz noted that client-centricity extends far beyond identifying the needs of the clients and becomes a feedback loop built on what he called conversational interplay.

An organization that successfully addresses the reality gap between theory and practice, he argues, embraces reality. It understands that following its social vision is everyone’s responsibility and so is built into the business model. Anton noted that we all have something to learn from this exploration of AMK, an organization that “has the client in their DNA” and “reinforces the truism that focus on the customer is good for business.”

Listen to the conversation


If you prefer, you can stream the podcast from SoundCloud, or you can download the audio file.

Voice your opinion in our comments section. How can organizations best do good and do well?

Following the conversation, we asked Larry and Anton to write up a few closing thoughts.

Larry said, “What struck me from our conversation today was how much the lessons we learn from AMK apply to any social enterprise that seeks to expand the positive results achieved by its clients while also earning enough income to sustain itself and grow. Social enterprises need to align all their people and systems around their mission, and they do this with good data, engaging and open conversations, lots of iterations and improvements, incentives that reward behavior that promotes the mission, and a governance structure that reviews performance according to mission at every meeting. The result is an enterprise whose corporate culture can consistently generate creative responses to changing client needs.”

Anton said, “Countless organizations of every shape, size, and orientation — not just in the realm of microfinance — are in the business of doing good and working with poor and vulnerable communities around the world to deliver potentially life-changing services to address a range of pressing social needs. Some are doing excellent work, and this book examines what it is that they do that makes the difference. But at the same time, a common theme has emerged in our work over the past 20 years: we see organisations missing opportunities to do things better and organisations getting things wrong, again and again. When surveying the landscape of missed opportunities, there is temptation to become blindsided by the success stories, but we must deliver on the ethical imperative to make good on our good intentions. This book explores the inevitable shortcomings of every success story and how we can learn from those who are ‘doing good’ well.”

The authors of The Business of Doing Good argue that social enterprises and organizations must understand the importance of response, be it to environment, best practices, or client needs and capacities. The Business of Doing Good challenges microfinance practitioners, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, businessmen, and students of all kinds to reevaluate their respective journeys to deliver on their good intentions throughout their work and beyond.


Anton Simanowitz (@antowitz) has worked for the past 20 years to support social enterprises to be more effective in delivering impact, and for those who support and invest in them to make better investment, capacity building and policy decisions. For support on building organizations to deliver impact, contact him here. To receive current updates about The Business of Doing Good, follow the book on Twitter.

Larry Reed is the director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign (@MicroCredSummit). He has worked for more than 25 years in designing, supporting and leading activities and organizations that empower poor people to transform their lives and their communities. For most of that time Reed worked with Opportunity International, including five years as their Africa regional director and eight years as the first CEO of the Opportunity International Network

Susy Cheston is senior advisor for the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) at Accion (@CFI_ACCION) and leads the Financial Inclusion 2020 Campaign. Cheston has a long history of work in economic development, including leading roles at World Vision and Opportunity International, as well as being active in the leadership of the Microenterprise Coalition.


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