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