Leading with Love: Street Business School’s #1 Value
Written by Torkin Wakefield, Global Ambassador & Co-Founder of BeadforLife and Street Business School
When we began our work in Uganda to eradicate dire poverty almost 20 years ago there was a steep learning curve for how to go about our work. There was a lot we did not know. We had to rely on assets we did have. Our greatest asset, we agreed, was that we knew the power of love to be transformative, free, and abundant. It was upon this value that much of our success in defeating poverty rests.
When you grow up female and very poor, your sense of self-esteem is often extremely low. We found that many women we worked with were so beaten down that they could barely raise their voice or their eyes. Still, the spark to survive and to keep children fed and safe stayed like a steady ember within them. It was on this ember that we heaped the tinder of loving-kindness.
How do we manifest loving-kindness? We intentionally bring respect and acknowledgement to everyone in our Street Business School family: our trainees, our partners, our staff, and our supporters. Our curriculum is brim full of empowering exercises that encourage self-knowing, acceptance, and gentleness. We highlight our differences with joy and applause. One small but telling example is that everyone at our trainings, including attendees, trainers and staff, takes on the same title of “Coach,” which is a respectful way to build a community of equality. We understand each person has knowledge, talents, and questions to contribute which help everyone rise. We celebrate our victories, sing songs of overcoming, and build joy with dancing and sharing.
“Access to self-confidence is often more difficult to obtain than access to capital,” says Street Business School CEO Devin Hibbard. “We want to find the spark of potential within each woman and ignite it into a bonfire.”
Lillian was sent away as a 12 year old to be a house girl at a general’s home. There she was over worked and abused. When she ran away she could not find her way home, and she drifted, alone and desperate, into the capital city, Kampala. She soon became a bargirl. At 17 she had her first baby who died within a few days. When she came to Street Business School she was gaunt and withdrawn, but hopeful. She made friends and marveled at the community of women who were so like herself and who welcomed her. We lavished loving-kindness towards her and the other members of her training group. In a variety of continuous ways we told her she was valued, clever, and loved.
Over the months of the training we saw this young woman transform herself into a dynamo. She never missed a session, and she soon started a small vegetable business on a market sidewalk. Each month she was excited to tell us about her small successes, how she had added avocados and tomatoes, then eggplants and peppers. Soon she had a vegetable stall in the market. Her eyes sparkled and she looked us in the eye. When I asked her about her experience she said, “I found friends and people who believed in me. I believe in myself now. I’m a woman that matters,” she declared firmly.
We have repeatedly seen this transformation of women, who once they experience their own potential and gain self-confidence, succeed beyond their dreams. This confidence to succeed is kindled by feeling loved and valued for who they are.
Similarly we are mindful to bring loving-kindness to our staff. Our workplace is playful and fun even while we do serious work.
We have rituals of acknowledgement and caring and seek to have truthful and caring communications. And we love parties, graduation ceremonies, and birthdays.
Leading with love is a value that we aspire to. It is both personal and organizational. And while not always easy to do, we work to infuse loving-kindness into our programs and actions. We seek this high standard and are happy to work at Street Business School because, let’s face it, working in an organization that prioritizes loving-kindness is as good as it gets.