Sustainability starts with Empowerment

By Edith Samouillet de Gomez, President

I attended our Rotary District Conference in April 2013. Over 500 people from different clubs attended the event in Vail, Colorado.

I have been impressed by the will of all these people to serve the communities, locally and internationally. I also met wonderful human beings and heard powerful messages about Love, Service, Leadership and Compassion.

“Service above self” is the motto of the Rotary and I have seen it in action in many ways. As our organization is leading many projects in many of the most in-need countries and communities around the world, sustainability is a real subject. But good intention and money are not enough to be successful to serve.

To be successful in supporting sustainable projects the most important thing is to understand in depth the culture we are working with. And there is a significant difference between these two expressions: working with or working for.

Working with implies a strong desire and effort to listen to people we want to serve.  The following steps seem to be very important to succeed:

1.Listen to what people need

What matters is not what we want for people. For example, we think that a specific population needs some toilets. Is it really what they want? Is it really their first priority? Is it meaningful for them?

2. Ask for their contribution and involvement in the development of the project

What is their vision, what are their suggestions? This is a critical element in successfully collaborating with the people we are working with.

3. Make sure that people understand the change and the benefit for them.

After many years working in change management, I have seen that people change as soon as they understand the benefit for themselves.

 4.Invite them to learn the appropriate skills to be successful

Training is key in developing a project, especially a sustainable one;  and it is also a way to reinforce collaboration among everyone. As people acquire new skills, they feel valued and are eager to put them into action.

But why is it so important to have people onboard to succeed in any project?

Let us look at the following Leadership Circle chart© that shows the different stages we recommend covering in order to implement any project and be successful:

Leadership Circle

Creating the Vision

Answers the question: What do we want?

Developing a vision is the first step. This vision is built from your thoughts, ideas, inspiration, what you want in your heart, and from what you see that other people don’t see.

Developing followers

Answers the question: who do we need to have onboard with this project and what do these people want?

As we all know, we can’t do anything without others. Working together is what makes us strong and successful. If our vision impacts the life of others, how we could implement it without their insight, input and involvement? They know more than we do about their reality, their needs, their culture, and we can learn so much from them in working with them. Also, some key people may need to be involved to support the project.

Implementing the Vision

Answers the question: what do we need to reach our goal?

This is the practical part of the project. It is what makes it real and alive. It is about the actions that we take to make the project existing and moving forward. It includes structure and processes, communication, delegation. It is also in this part that training can be critical for the success of the project.

Even if people involved have a strong motivation, they also need to develop the right skills and knowledge which will also be very important for the follow up and maintenance phase.

Following through

Answers the question: how do we stay on track and get effective results?

Many of our projects fail due to the lack of maintenance and follow up. Following up is the way to make the project last over time because of the ongoing involvement of people. It is why giving feedback is so important. It is the skill to encourage people and show them where they can improve. This is the skill of growth and learning.

Getting results

Answers the question: How do we stay focused on the expected result?

This is related to how we make sure we get results and the level of demand we put on the project through our behavior and the level of objectives we set. It also has to do with how the leader will demonstrate their authority through their status.

Interacting with people

Answers the question: how do we interact with others to be collectively successful?

The way we interact with others has a great impact on our success. If people we are working with realize they are a significant part of the project and they are listened to, they will  feel valued and engaged and will greatly contribute to the team’s success.

Listening is also very important for the leader as it gives them the opportunity to better understand the reality of others. Then they can be more appropriate in their work relationship with them.

In anything we do as a project leader, empowerment is the key. It is what makes people want to give their contribution and to be committed to the team success. It is also what will make us go without regrets, knowing that some people have taken over after us. And then, we could say: “we did it!”

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