I was sitting in the hotel lobby, tired after having given a talk and two workshops, when she walked up to me.
“I’ve been looking for you,” she said. I recognized her from one of the tables at the front. She wanted to tell me about the women in one of her educational programs, and how ideas in my talk might help them.
The story she told me has stayed with me all week. I feel like it’s one of those times when the universe is nudging me to do something.
Helping mothers and their children
She works at a university, and has for a long time. She had been running a program to help mothers learn about nutrition for their children. They would talk about what’s in foods that people commonly feed their kids, and what to watch out for. They would introduce them to foods they might not be used to cooking with, like avocado and quinoa.
While many of the women found it helpful, some were particularly enthusiastic. They truly cared about the topic. So when she got funding for a related program and needed to hire people, one of her team members suggested they consider hiring women they were already helping.
Working with (and around) the system
This wasn’t the normal recruiting process. But the woman running the program had been doing this kind of thing for decades, and she knew how to work with the system. She hired them.
She started reading some of the texts and emails from one of the women. In the program, they would cook meals so they could all try the food themselves and learn how it was prepared. A mother-turned-nutrition educator had been searching for recipes. She was exploring and creating ("What if we tried cranberries with that instead?") and was excited to share her ideas. I could feel the administrator's sense of wonder and hope as she read the exchanges. I could feel the mother's empowerment as she tapped into new ways she could contribute.
Then she put down her phone, somewhat downcast, and said, “Normally, the system rejects this kind of thing.” In addition to rules about hiring, there were rules about which recipes they were allowed to use, about which communications channels to use. But she said she had followed the rules for too long, and now she cared more about helping people, whatever it took. I could tell she was gratified to have helped one young woman, and also that she felt compelled to do more. That’s when she asked, “How do I make more of her?”
As I listened to what was being shared by email and text, I thought of Jane Bozarth’s book, “Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud,” in which she offered a wide and wonderful range of examples of everyday people making their work visible. I started to ask some "What if?" questions.
What if all of the recipes and other ideas were more visible? Instead of being hidden in emails and texts, the mothers, teachers, and others who cared about the topic could interact, share, and learn in an online community, or even a simple Facebook group.
What if the program administrator wasn’t the one responsible for “making more of her”? The women in the program could use their visible contributions to make their own connections and find people as passionate about the topic as they were.
What if you didn’t need to ask permission or make it part of the program at all, but empowered the women to set things up for themselves?
This. This is at the core of what I hope to do, to spread this kind of empowerment, one that enables people to take a bit more control over their lives. To enable people of any background or circumstances to learn, connect, and access opportunities they might never have known existed otherwise.
We shook hands as she said goodbye. “I’ll definitely contact you,” she said. I hope she does.