Service-Listening and the Commitment of the Bold
I am so excited about today’s post! We have a guest today whom I have admired for several years: the incomparable Neena Jain. Neena is currently the Executive Director and Co-Founder of EmBolden Alliances. EmBolden Alliances is driven to “improve the lives of vulnerable communities through collaborative partnerships that embolden the quality and impact of service”.
I first met Neena while she was serving as Adjunct Faculty and Director of The Humanitarian Assistance Program at the University of Denver. I was completing my Masters degree at the Korbel School and she was enriching the Global Health graduates with her knowledge and expertise. My research and courses had not been health focused, but I was intrigued by her experience and thankfully decided to take her introductory course. Her refreshing combination of humility, brilliance and humor inspired me to complete a certificate in Humanitarian Assistance, ensuring I would be able to take more of her courses.
Prior to my admiration phase, Neena worked in international Humanitarian Assistance and Global Health with such organizations as Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), International Medical Corps, Australian Aid International, and Save the Children. She was board certified in Emergency Medicine in 2001 and practiced as an Attending Physician at Swedish Medical Center and Denver Health Medical Center Emergency Departments. Her accolades are vast and a full bio is definitely worth the read!
I am thrilled that Neena wanted to sit down and share her thoughts on service. One of the things I admire about Neena is that despite her busy schedule and countless demands, she truly values people. She has taken the time to explore innovations, answered my many questions (in school and life!) and even diagnosed me with pneumonia during class when I was trying to convince myself I just had a hell of a cold. She’s aces, folks.
So without further ado…
What does 'being of service' mean to you?
· Helping others achieve their own visions and their own dreams.
· emBOLDening WITH, not dictating TO.
· Having compassion, not merely pity. Having empathy, not merely sympathy.
· Setting aside judgment and understanding one’s own fears. It means accepting that another’s suffering can be as profound as, or more than, one’s own.
· Going beyond looking to seeing. And moving beyond hearing to listening.
· Listening, acting, then listening again.
· Measuring impact with evidence, data, rigorous analysis, sound methodologies, and locally-driven solutions.
· Reducing inefficiencies and maximizing resources of any and every kind (financial, human, supplies, etc.).
· Rolling up one’s sleeves and doing what it takes toward a greater good, supporting a team, and strengthening a community.
· Most of all, it means putting aside one’s own ego and agenda.
Sometimes, service is the absence of doing. It can be about showing up, being present, listening, and supporting.
Can service-learning actually be transformed into learning-service? Moreover, into service-listening?
How can we actively listen our way to a better world and to impact that is meaningful and durable?
How has a desire to 'be of service' led you to where you are/influenced your life decisions?
I have been trained and have worked for many years as an Emergency Medicine Physician, Global Health Professional, and Humanitarian Aid Worker, and am currently the Executive Director and Co-Founder of emBOLDen Alliances. Committed to international development and humanitarian crises worldwide, my work can best be summarized as:
Collaboratively unifying compassion into meaningful impact.
What does this actually mean? It means recognizing that there are countless seemingly ordinary individuals across the globe doing extraordinary things for themselves and for others. Individuals and organizations rooted in their communities seeking a better life and knowing how they could achieve their dreams. They seek a better life for themselves, their children, parents, neighbors, friends, and communities. The common universal theme amongst us all is that drive - that desire for better. Not more, but better.
I have found these individuals and organizations across the globe, in makeshift shelters amongst populations displaced by conflict or in temporary camps set up after an earthquake or in tiny villages with no water or electricity. My mentors have come in many shapes and sizes from a young mother suffering from fistula in Niger, leaking urine and shunned by her family, to the elderly Pakistani man embracing religious faith while supporting his daughter’s education.
There are many examples of the people with whom I have worked who touched me deeply. For example, I had the pleasure of running a large Community Health Worker Program to combat malaria and diarrheal diseases in post-tsunami and post-earthquake Indonesia.
Esther was a college student whose studies had been disrupted by the massive 9.2 earthquake that occurred on her native island. She came to work with our organization to help her own community during this crisis. Esther quickly became one of our star students and leader of her Community Health Team.
I distinctly remember experiencing Esther’s “Aha!” moment. Esther realized, and voiced to me, the effects of malaria on pregnant women in her communities; she talked about the impacts she saw firsthand on women having smaller babies who were vulnerable to all sorts of infections, and school children having to miss out on many days of school because they were frequently ill. For Esther, that knowledge and understanding will stay with her throughout her life as she continues to work to serve her own people. In addition, the communities Esther has taught are better off from having learned directly from her, as a Community Health Worker, and as a peer who is a role model and a leader.
While in Kenya, I met Nancy who was a nurse working with me in the slum areas of Mathare in Nairobi to help her community in the wake of post-election violence. Years earlier, Nancy had given up her job as a nurse in order to raise her family. But when the violence hit, Nancy knew she wanted to help the families around her and she returned to work. Nancy was eager to learn everything she could about managing a gunshot wound or a machete injury. She was a fast learner and quickly became the clinic’s Head Nurse. Nancy was very proud to share that she had earned enough money to send her own children to school, and with proper books and uniforms. She was not only helping the people around her by nursing them to better health, but she was now also able to provide education for her children who as a result will have more opportunity, be able to care for themselves and their families, and ultimately improve the lives of their loved ones going forward.
My job is to listen to these individuals and the organizations working in their communities, help them better formulate and implement their ideas according to their own specific context, and maximize their resources.
Many may be missing certain skills, tools, or guidance that can assist them in actually realizing those visions. Thus, we assist these community-based partners to channel their incredible compassion and goals into durable impact. Then we step back and let them thrive, achieve, and surpass - as well as carry on - to help others realize their visions for better.
How is the ethic of service manifested at Embolden Alliances?
The nonprofit organization we have created is truly unique in its mission and methodology. The most typical responses we receive about our work are:
· “Oh, that is so needed in the world!”
· “Why is no one else working like that?”
· “That seems so intuitively obvious and yet rare in implementation.”
Therein lies the innovation.
We are innovative because we keep things simple and thorough. We deliver global expertise to local solutions and partner directly with community-driven programs.
By working with existing organizations and community-driven initiatives, we improve accessibility as well as reach. By working on operational efficiency, we bring accountability and sustainability. By utilizing locally-derived ideas and focusing on community-based initiatives, our solution is engineered to be very affordable. And, by knowing that we do not have the answers and approaching our partners through listening, we collaboratively find the solutions that work with a specific context.
Thank you, so much Neena. Your commitment to meaningful, locally-driven impact is such an inspiration. Thank you for encouraging service-listening and for your commitment to community-driven change!
If you would like more information about Neena, Embolden Alliances or are interested in being or nominating a guest for series, please connect with me! Be sure to check out the EmBolden Alliances website for more details and join the newsletter mailing list.