You have to take care of the individuals as well as the process
I read an awesome book last month, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Connor Grennan that made me realize that in addition to saving the world and solving big problems that affect millions of people, we also need to make sure everyone has a champion.
Little Princes is about this guy who decides to quit work and travel around the world. In order to look less like he’s on a boondoggle, he decides to stop in Nepal and volunteer at an orphanage. While there he falls in love with the kids and makes a personal commitment to several of them. He also discovers that many are not really orphans but rather children whose families are trying to save them from being recruited as soldiers.
When he finds out that 7 of the kids he promised to help have gone missing, he starts a nonprofit, raises money and goes back to find those 7 kids. He sees hundreds of needy children, but he hunts for those 7 kids. (He also opens an orphanage and does a ton of great things along the way.)
I struggled with that for a while – his ability to continue hunting for 7 kids while tons of others could have used his help. He passes hundreds of kids who need his help and focuses on finding those 7. At some point, I think I would have given up and gone to work fixing the political system that caused the problem. Trying to fix it for just 7 kids would have felt pointless. Then I realized that I fight every day for the 2 kids in my house. I help hundreds of kids indirectly through my work but I am a champion for the individual kids that live in my house. And they have not just me but their dad and a huge extended family of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
So everybody needs someone who is fighting for them as an individual. And all of us need to fight for the individuals we believe in as well as the causes.
So what does this mean? I think we need to focus more on relationships, not just causes. In the open source world, we do this a lot through events and blogging. We do it when we say we’re a “meritocracy” and each individual earns their role. We value the individual and form tight bonds that aren’t dissolved when someone changes roles or gets hired or fired. The individual is more important than the role. The project is made up of individuals.
I think there are also opportunities for a different kind of mentorship. A much more accountable, visible mentorship.