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The power of change

July 15, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    courtesy of Holly Wolfe  </span>
    Photo: courtesy of Holly Wolfe

My name is Holly Wolfe and I believe in the power of change.

When I was nine, I vowed to my mother that, one day, I would move to Africa. She looked at me like I told her I wanted to move to Mars! But it was too late, I was convinced — and it only took a fourth-grade social studies assignment and a few library books with colorful photos to persuade me. My mother will tell you that, from that moment on, I never stopped “planning” my big move to Africa. Something happened to me when I picked up those library books: I was changed.

A decade later, my childhood dream became a reality. Through the help of scholarships and grants, I spent five months living abroad in East Africa, studying, volunteering and traveling in a part of the world I had been falling in love with for more than ten years. I experienced only a portion Africa’s richness, struggles, beauty and history — but once again I was changed. It’s been six years since my time abroad, but Africa still remains a part of my daily thoughts and prayers.

These days, I spend my time grant-making for The Russell Family Foundation in Gig Harbor, Washington. I sift through hundreds of funding proposals from non-profit organizations every year, looking for projects that demonstrate the highest potential for the greatest impact. To do my job well, I continually have to ask myself: how does change happen?

Does change happen from the top down or the bottom up? Does it happen to one person at a time or on a community-wide-scale? Should we work to change our systems or the people that operate within them? I still wrestle with the answers to questions like these. But along the way, I have picked up a few ideas about what facilitates change. Three factors repeatedly stand out to me, which I like to call the "Change Trifecta.” They are:

Time, Resources and Talent.

When people are willing to give in these three areas for the causes they care about most — change happens. It’s true of the organizations that I fund through my work at the foundation and it’s true of organizations I personally support like Mercy Corps.

Since the day the devastating earthquake hit, Mercy Corps has been employing the “Change Trifecta” in Haiti. Staff and volunteers spend time with vulnerable children through the “Comfort for Kids” and “Moving Forward” programs; they provide resources for Haitian families meeting basic needs like water, food and shelter; and they support the talents of Haitians to rebuild their country and their economy through “cash-for-work” initiatives.

Reading about Mercy Corps’ unwavering efforts to bring about change in Haiti makes me feel like I’m nine years old again, working on my social studies report: wide-eyed, captivated and hopeful. It makes me wonder what more I could do with my time, resources and talents to help Haiti? What more could we all do? And how might we be changed as a result?

I believe in the power of change — because I’ve seen it, because I’ve felt it and because I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of it. I believe in it for Africa, for Haiti, for all of us. The question is: do you?