Thursday, March 29, 2012

Barbara Goldberg, Founder of Wells Bring Hope : The Power of Renewal and Responsiveness

"Life is shot at us point blank" Ortega y Gassett

Powerful leadership begins with powerful self-talk - the interior monologue within our minds. Whether or not we lead others, we are a leader in our own lives. The people and events we encounter provide us with opportunities to transform our inner conversations and become more effective - or to stay embedded in the past.

When Barbara Goldberg, a marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies, heard Gil Garcetti speak about the plight of girls and women in Niger, Africa, she responded. She could do something; it was simple. There was a problem - girls and women had to carry heavy containers of unclean water for miles to their villages every day; and there was a solution - drill wells in the villages. She could raise money for the wells! After all, she headed the Salon Forum, a popular women's group and Garcetti's audience at this 2008 presentation. Barbara had founded the group in 1993, thinking, "When women come together, they make magic!" Little did she realize that, 15 years later, she would be spear-heading Wells Bring Hope, which has donated the money for 129 wells to be drilled so far and has targeted 100 more wells for 2012.

Barbara met me near UCLA for our interview. "I never stopped to think how this decision would impact my life. The last thing in the world I wanted was to run my own company. I always worked on my own and never thought about building an empire. I loved my freedom too much!" Barbara not only exchanged her freedom for a full-time enterprise, but she also confronted having to ask people for money. "As a marketing consultant, I had been traveling all over, moderating focus groups, making presentations to large companies, but speaking to raise mony? That felt totally different and a little frightening. I had friends in the non-profit world who had shared how tough fundraising was. On the other hand, I had lots of inspiration and support from Gil and a core group of Salon Forum women who were as possionate as I was about helping the women and girls in Africa!"

Today, just four years later, Barbara has a paid pull-time Operations Manager and 70 volunteers, including teams for grant-writing, social networking, blog writing and donor development; a brand-new website, with "Water Circles," for fundraising campaigns that individuals can set up; and an outreach program to get schools involved.

When I asked Barbara who had influenced her the most in her life, her response was immediate. Her father, an entrepreneur in New York City, had instilled in Barbara her "Can do!" spirit. She also acknowledged an organization called Project Renewment (instead of "retirement"), which supports women in transforming their "golden years" into golden opportunities. Today, the girls and women of Niger are the beneficiaries of this support.

Barbara wants us to be clear the Niger (Nee-ZHERE) is not Nigeria. When I asked "Why Africa? Why not here in the US?," again she was quick to respond. "The needs here are well know. But Niger is the 2nd poorest country in the world; when we started, it was number 1! And we have a powerful partnership with WORLD VISION, one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world - bigger than CARE or SAVE THE CHILDREN combined. They drill each well with the $5,600 we provide; and then, through their local staff, they continue working with the villagers for 15 years, which ends up multiplying our original donation by five times!"

Tall, slender and beautiful at 70, Barbara attributes her success to "an action-oriented work mode, continually looking for new opportunities and better ways to implement them. Learning how to be a more sensitive, responsive leader has been one of my greatest challenges," she reveals. When she interviews volunteers, Barbara listens for what they want and tries to tailor assignments to fit their needs and interests.

In a recent trip to Niger, their team interviewed 87 village women. "They are our sisters. They're just like us in terms of goals and needs. They want their children to be healthy and strong, to get the best education - not just to survive!" Barbara is proud that the wells free up the girls to go to school and the women to develop businesses with the micro-loans they are given as part of every well-drilling project.

Barbara noted that, since Wells Bring Hope started four years ago, awreness of the water crisis has grown tremendously. With the recent acquisition of Panda Express as a corporate sponsor at the end of last year and national coverage in Glamour magazine, Wells Bring Hope has moved to a new level of success. "We're an example of how a few people can come together and make a dent in helping to solve a growing world problem. For me, it's a major life accomplishinment!"

"Do not be conformed to this world,

But be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

Romans 12:2

Monday, January 30, 2012

Former D.A. Gil Garcetti: Creating Opportunities

"Never, never, never, never give up!" ~ Winston Churchill

Been keeping up with the GOP primaries? If so, you've probably noticed that the race to the White House is a marathon with many laps and hurdles. Contestants soar, trip, fall, pull out or bounce back - proving that the elder statesman, Winston Churchill, hit the nail on the head in his response to "What is the secret to your success?" Never give up.

Former District Attorney of Los Angeles from 1992 to 2000, during some highly publicized murder trials, Gil Garcetti has run his share of races, cleared some hurdles, tripped over others and bounced back. Although he still continues to occupy the spotlight, it's now as a world-renown photographer and humanitarian. When Gil speaks about his pet cause, Wells Bring Hope, everyone gets it. It's about the water. Water is life. When wells are drilled in poor West African villages, girls and women are released from their long daily treks of carrying heavy containers of contaminated water to their communities. Wells transform their lives, by providing clean water and the freedom to go to school, become teachers and nurses, run businesses. Having undergone a sea change of his own, it makes sense that Gil Garcetti now brings the hope of clean water to these villages.

I met Gil last year when Spirited Woman founder, Nancy Mills, invited me to her series of conversations with Los Angeles artists. I saw his powerful photographic collections and heard about the cause to which he is passionately dedicated. Photographer, inspiring speaker and humani-

tarian seemed a far cry from my memories of the 90's and I wondered - What led to his shift? And what connects him to the girls and women of West Africa?

Later, speaking to students at Loyola High School, Gil shared about his life. He was born and raised in Downtown Los Angeles, to poor, immigrant Mexican parents. His father had been a non-violent gang member, but after getting married and in response to his wife's wishes,he became a barber. Gil remembered, as a boy, admiring the skills and grace of garbage collectors in his neighbor-hood. This was the seed, I thought, to his powerful photographs of the iron workers constructing Disney Concert Hall.

Another seed was planted when Gil was in the sixth grade, during career day. He met his first lawyer, learned about the "rule of law" and his eyes lit up. "I wasn't sure what I would do as a lawyer, but for the first time, I heard about college-level education and the growing possibilities that came with it!"

Throwing his hat over the wall, Gil graduated from UCLA's Law School, worked for Senator Eugene McCarthy and eventually was hired by the Los Angeles DA's office. Later, as a husband and father of two, with a fire in his belly and some experience under his belt, Gil decided to run for DA against the incumbant, who had fired him... and won!
Then came the murder trials of the Menendez Brothers, OJ Simpson and the feeding frenzy of gawkers, detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, reporters, photographers (with the rest of us glued to our television sets and car radios). Gil was re-elected to office shortly after the OJ "not guilty" verdict, but - as anger about the verdict and related LAPD prosecution grew - when he ran for office a third time, he was defeated.
"It was embarrassing," Gil admitted to his teen audience at Loyola High. "I was kicked out of office, in front of everyone. But that's life and you've got to deal with it." At this point in his story, I recalled when he was speaking at an elegant fundraiser to a group of 200 community leaders. He cheerfully greeted us with "I have many of you to thank for booting me out of office so I could be here tonight sharing about Wells Bring Hope!" We laughed and he was off and running. Being voted out of office turned out to be a blessing, clearing out the old and leaving room for Gil's love of photography to take off.

"There is a natural law, a Divine law, that obliges you and me to relieve the suffering, the distressed and the destitute." ~ Conrad Hilton

In early 2001, at the invitation of the Conrad Hilton Foundation, Gil and his wife visited several poor countries in West Africa, including Niger. Gil was struck by the "joyous beauty of the people" and by the fact that 70% of them did not have clean, safe water. He photographed what he found, but it wasn't until after 9/11, that Gil saw the possibility of using these photographs to bring wells and clean water to these poor countries - poor Muslim countries - and demonstrate that the industrialized world cares about them. This was the turning point for Gil, a global cause he could devote himself to.

I'm confident Gil was a wonderful speaker before Wells Bring Hope - he's warm, funny, natural - but he's also a magnetic fundraiser and caring mentor. The November 2011 fundraiser at the elegant Lladro Gallery in Beverly Hills honored 15 year old Kevin Kilroy, who had raised money for 5 wells in Niger. She did this after learning about the staggering water-related mortality rate among African children and comparing her opportunities to those of the teen girls in Niger. Although afraid of public speaking, Kevin felt so personally connected to the cause and compelled to help that she spoke during 5 masses at St. Paul's cathedral and at her school. Her voice trembled, but people pitched in and she raised the money (matched by World Vision). Her father and brother traveled with Gil to witness the wells being drilled. When Kevin shared at the fundraiser, she was poised, purposeful and seemed completely at ease - there was no hint of the fear she had felt earlier! The results of the trip were captured in a brief, stirring video shown at the fundraiser and also at Loyola High, where Kevin's brother, Ross, joined Gil in his presentation.

This was Ross's first time to speak publicly about Wells Bring Hope. A young man, recently out of school and at the beginning of his career, Ross was marvelous - passionate, in charge of the facts and in touch with his personal experience in Africa, as a witness to the villagers when clean water shot up from deep underground and splattered onto their ecstatic faces.

Wells Bring Hope gained another moving speaker that day at Loyola High and we have Gil to thank for creating the opportunities for Kevin, Ross and other future speakers who will leap beyond their fear to follow their hearts and contribute to the people of Niger; and for reminding us that - if he and Churchill can trip and fall over hurdles, pick themselves up and throw themselves back into the race, so can we.

"For to the man who pleases him, God gives widom and knowledge and joy." ~ Ecclesiastes 2:25