The Power of You

Two weeks ago I came up for air from my summer sabbatical because I was so bothered I couldn’t sit still. Two of Big Love Little Hearts‘ partner organizations, ICHF and Preemptive Love, shared a story that made me so ill I did the only thing I could do in the moment: I wrote about it.

I tweet this phrase almost everyday: “Build Community. Build Change.” Not because it sounds nice, but because I know it’s true. I knew that relaying this story to my community, who would then relay it to their communities, would not just build change – it would save lives. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened.

A lot of you shared my post via twitter (most notably Chris Brogan – thank you for helping this story reach hundreds of thousands people) but the chain that led to change was actually quite short. An hour after I posted the piece Rebecca Self read it and tweeted the link to TED Fellow, Esra’a Al Shafei, and her group Mideast Youth. Esra’a published the story on and less than two weeks later a donor read it and funded a mission trip that will save 30 lives.

30 lives were saved because the Founder of ICHF shared an injustice that I then shared that someone else then shared with someone else. Individual decisions to reach out and trust our networks…to trust the communities we cultivate through our blogs, twitter, facebook, etc.

The Power of You saved 30 lives.

The beautiful thing is that you have the opportunity to impact lives every day simply by using your voice. Whether you’re a non-profit or an individual you have a network of friends, colleagues, family, supporters, etc who care about a lot of the same things you do. That’s why they’re in your community. When you’re moved they will be too.

Want to test the Power of You today? Kindred spirit and fellow believer in community Scott Stratten was moved by a little boy named Tanner. Today with a tweet, with a $1, with a moment – you can create change in someone’s life. Find out how here.

Extraordinary thanks to everyone who shared the original post, Rebecca L. Self, Esra’a Al Shafei, the amazing donor who stepped up and to Dr. Bill Novick, Founder of ICHF and my absolute hero.

YOU can change the world. YOU can start now.


Bigotry & Racism in Philanthropy

I’ve been on sabbatical this summer to spend time with my little boy but I read a blog the other day that I’ve been sick over. My non-profit Big Love Little Hearts helps children in developing countries with heart defects get lifesaving surgery. We collaborate with other groups to get this done and one of them, ICHF, was set to travel to Iraq in just a few weeks to work with another, Preemptive Love, to perform surgery on some 30 children.

Nothing about that sounds sickening yet, I know – it’s wonderful in fact. Except it might not happen anymore. Not because it’s not safe enough for a U.S. team to travel there, not because the right equipment couldn’t be donated or because the right doctors wouldn’t volunteer their time. Because of bigotry and racism, plain and simple.

An excerpt from the ICHF blog:

“Our team was due to go to Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. We had been contacted by a foundation several months ago telling us they had $17,000 that had been given specifically for Iraqi children to be operated on. When we contacted the donor directly we were told that the funds were only for Sunni and Shia children, not for Kurdish children – and since we were going to Kurdistan the funds were no longer available.”

Their Founder goes on to say “Bigotry and racism have no place in this world…these two together have killed millions.” I couldn’t agree more strongly as I think all of us working in the non-profit community do. Need is a human condition. It is not bound by color of skin or language or geography.

What I don’t agree with is his next sentence: “Death is coming again to Iraq and this time the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are Bigotry, Racism, Misunderstanding and Vindictiveness.” Why not? Because I know that this won’t sit well with you either. And you have fans and friends and followers and blogs and facebook pages.

I’ve never used my blog for a call to action before but today I am. Today I have to:

Donate $5 – Save Babies and Fight Bigotry (double karma points!)

Tweet this

Blog about it

Talk about it

Facebook it (did I really just use that as a verb?)

A few dollars, a few minutes…however you do it, I’d love your help standing up to the new Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Children shouldn’t die because of racism.

What Chris Brogan taught me at SOBCon (and why I’ve been so quiet)


Has it really been three weeks since my last blog post? Yes. Yes it has. Odd for a wordy girl like me, right?

So what has kept me so busy I couldn’t slow down long enough to write? Implementing what I learned from Chris Brogan during his great presentation at SOBCon 2010. Chris talked a lot about how he’s been restructuring his business lately and why he needed to do so. It felt like Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker had asked him to come to speak just for me. I know I wasn’t the only person to feel that way but what he said impacted me so much that I’ve spent the last 10 days restructuring my organizations.

If this isn’t your first visit to my blog you already know that I’m the Founder and Director of four non-profit organizations. What you might not know is that I also work on a Development Mapping Initiative out of Secretary Clinton’s Global Partnerships Office, I’m the creator of The CHD Solution Workspace and am working on two Mobile Health initiatives – one in the U.S. and one in developing countries. I am very passionate about all of these things but I’m only human. At some point one of these is not going to get the attention it deserves.

Chris spoke about his many businesses and projects (he actually has more than I do!) and how he had come to the same conclusion – no one person can do this many things. So Chris decided to do two things – consolidate and build a team of disciples to carry out his vision. Chris is a pretty smart guy and I like to take advice from smart people so that’s exactly what I did.

In the last 10 days I have restructured everything.

  • Little Leo Foundation, my first non-profit that delivers care baskets and these soft and cuddly lions to children that have just had open-heart surgery, is no longer an organization. It is now a joint project of Big Love Little Hearts and One Hundred Squared. Why? I’m a firm believer that if there’s another non-profit doing what you’re doing you should either partner with them, find a way to do it better or step out of the way. When I first started Little Leo Foundation almost four years ago Saving Little Hearts was also delivering care baskets to heart families but they were regional to Tennessee. Since then they’ve partnered with Mended Little Hearts to deliver them all over the country. Because the only thing our baskets have that theirs don’t is Leo Lion (the aforementioned stuffed animal) that’s all we’re going to deliver – both here and abroad, through Big Love Little Hearts and One Hundred Squared. Making that change just bought me an extra 20 hours a week. Easily.
  • One In One Hundred is now One Hundred Squared – I’ll talk more about this in an in-the-near-future post, but we changed our mission and our name. We did this partially because the mission of One In One Hundred will very likely be completed by 2011 and because I needed a more structured umbrella for my two congenital heart defect related Mobile Health initiatives. Again, expect to hear a lot more about this very soon.
  • Big Love Little Hearts is where Chris’ call to build a team of disciples really hit home and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re expanding the role of volunteers and interns to cover nearly every aspect of our work. This involves building specific teams within the greater team and will increase our manpower from two to 87 by the end of the June. I can’t even begin to calculate how much more time that will give me to be entrenched in the aspects of my work that can truly only be done by me.

That last sentence is an idea that’s fairly profound for me – that there are things that don’t have to be done by me and me alone. Thank you, Chris, for instilling a lesson I needed to internalize. Thank you Liz and Terry for creating an environment where I could do so.

Is that the only thing I learned at SOBCon? Not even close. Check back in the next few days for more posts about what I experienced at SOBCon and how I’m implementing it in my own organizations.


U.S. Based NPO Doing Work in Developing Countries? Why You Should Care About What’s Going On At Home…

Not surprisingly, I am once again blogging mid-flight. Last week it was on the way to NTEN’s excellent Non-Profit Technology Conference, this week I’m headed to Washington D.C. to talk Development Mapping and take part  in CHD (Congenital Heart Defect) Lobby Day.  Although my participation in Lobby Day is on behalf of Little Leo Foundation, One In One Hundred and Big Love Little Hearts (three of my non-profits), I’d be going even if I was only representing Big Love Little Hearts. This piece is written to CHD groups that work in the developing world, but this applies no matter what your cause community is.

So, why would I invest time and money going to Washington to lobby for things that affect children in the U.S. when Big Love helps children in developing countries? Better yet, why is this a question I feel the need to pose or answer? Quite to my surprise, this is actually a question that both a donor and one of our Provider Partner Organizations asked me!

The answer is very simple: what happens in this country will inform what we’re doing in developing countries the next decade and the decade beyond that. What we’re able to do now is a result of research the NIH funded to create new surgical techniques and improve on old ones in decades past.  Diagnostic techniques developed in the last dozen years make it possible to find children we never even knew needed our help before. Everything we do  in the undeveloped world is because someone in the developed world fought hard to fund the invention and/or implementation of it.

Right now there are three reasons to be in Washington D.C. if you care about or work in the CHD community in the developing world. The first is the Congenital Heart Futures Act. The research this will fund and the registry it will create will allow us to do our jobs more efficiently and effectively for decades to come. This translates into more lives saved, period. Mortality rates for CHD have declined 30% in developed countries in the last two decades – how wonderful would it be to see those same rates in the developing world, where we’re still losing at least one third of children born with heart defects?

Pulse oximetry is the second reason and perhaps the most relevant to those of us working in the developing world. One percent of the world’s population is born with a heart defect – that’s roughly one million new cases of CHD every year. 90% of children born with CHD will be born in developing countries. Only a third of them will ever be diagnosed.  Pulse oximetry is a simple, reliable and cost effective means for diagnosing critical congenital heart defects. Adding it to the National Newborn Screening Panel in the U.S. will pave the way for its use worldwide. Advances in mobile technology make it likely that in a very short time we can perform this test, log the results and send them to a doctor from a smartphone out in the field…from the places where children never get diagnosed because no one ever sees them.

The third reason to be in Washington D.C. right now is that the global CHD problem will never be solved by any one group. It won’t be solved by any one government. It won’t be solved by any one organization working in the U.S. and it won’t be solved by any one organization working in the developing world. It won’t be solved by any one doctor. It won’t be solved by any one University. There are 7 million children waiting to have their hearts repaired worldwide who can’t afford it. Even in the U.S. where qualified care is abundant, we are losing 10% of our CHD kids before they’re a year old. This doesn’t even take into account those who die while they are toddlers, children, teens, adults…this problem is gigantic and it’s going to take all of us working together to solve it. The opportunity to meet your fellow CHD crusaders and to form partnerships with them makes this not only the final, but also the most important reason to be at CHD Lobby Day.

If you’re a CHD group doing work in the developing world and aren’t planning to participate in Lobby Day, I urge you to change your mind. If you can’t make it in person please call your representative this week and/or email the national newborn screening panel. Be part of changing the lives of CHD kids who haven’t even been born yet. 10 years from now….20 years from now,  you’ll be glad you did!


Blogging From Global Pulse 2010, pt. 3

Global Pulse 2010 had real impact for me and my organizations. This final blog in my 3-part series on it is a love letter to #GP2010 that I sent in email form to Rob Lalka (@RobAtState), Global Partnerships Liaison for the Global Partnership Initiative in Secretary Clinton’s Office. In it I mention Jim Thompson (@JimAtState), who is Regional Director for Partnerships and former Acting Director of USAID’s Global Development Alliance.

Hi Rob,

I know I’ve said this in small ways via twitter, my blog and my comment on Mashable’s Global Pulse piece, but I wanted to express my appreciation for this remarkable initiative at more length.

Before I do I want to say that although my organization works in developing countries we do not have partnerships with USAID or any other USG office or program and are not seeking them. Similarly, we do not receive federal funding and do not seek or intend to seek it. My comments are sincere and not an attempt to flatter anyone into some kind of partnership or special consideration for any of my non-profits.

I can’t begin to articulate just how impressed I was by this landmark effort in government and more importantly, just how much value it was to me as an individual and to my organizations. My initial goal as a participant was to find new partners for Big Love Little Hearts and to address the lack of a singular source tracking all of the groups and agencies doing work in developing countries. I have another group, The 4F Club, that is a non-profit for other female founded NPO’s aimed at organizations that are still young (start up – 10 yrs) and lacking in resources. We are still in the development and strategy phase and I believe in a “bottom up” approach to both. Being able to interact with what I knew would be a large pool of both US and international young, female non-profit leaders was my ambition at Global Pulse for 4F Club. To say that these goals were achieved is an understatement.

I made more than a dozen new partnerships for Big Love Little Hearts over the course of GP2010. This will enable us to do more in the countries we’re already doing work in and has provided us opportunities to expand our work into new countries. Because of the kind of work we do this equates to countless more lives saved. Beyond that, through comments to my thread on Development Mapping and others posts in various forums, I was made aware of segmented mapping databases that will have an immediate impact on the efficiency of Big Love’s main program. Again, this will save countless lives – the kids we help, to put it bluntly, have expiration dates. If we can help them in time they live, if we can’t they die. Anything that speeds up the process of matching resources with need is highly impactful in our work….

…which brings me to what came out of GP2010 that I didn’t anticipate. Quoting my thread in Building Stronger Partnerships:

“Primarily we work by playing case worker and matching these children up with other NPO’s/NGO’s who already have a pre-existing mission team of pediatric heart surgeons traveling near them. When we can’t find them we find hospitals that are equipped and staffed appropriately and work with them to fund these surgeries. Transportation to and from, housing, aftercare and government regulations are just a sampling of the ancillary processes involved in getting surgery.

All of this takes help from a plethora of organizations and we do our best to locate any humanitarian or government group doing any kind of work anywhere near any of our kids. Despite the years I’ve been doing this I find out about new groups everyday and through various sources: google, twitter, facebook, word of mouth, etc.

There has to be a more streamlined source for this information. Is the U.S. Government working on any kind of database that tracks all of the various groups and agencies doing work in developing countries that NPO’s and NGO’s can have access to?

We have built amazing partnerships but it has taken a tremendous amount of time. I can’t imagine how much more efficiently we could all do our jobs if we were just aware of EVERYONE there was to consider building a partnership with.”

There is no more important factor in the success of Big Love Little Hearts’ mission than the development of the kind of interactive database I refer to above. Working around the lack of one is the single biggest time investment we make. In cases where children need surgery to repair their heart in their first month of life, lack of this kind of resource often contributes to lost lives. I spend countless hours thinking about and researching how something like this could/would function and who would have the capacity to build and fund it. Obviously it’s a project far too large for me or any other small non-profit to take on, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it because I am always thinking about the kids who ask for our help and how we can better help them.

To read Jim Thompson’s response to my question was an incredible relief. Knowing that this was something the USG is already exploring and hearing how it was being approached in such detail gave me faith that its’ fruition was more than just possibility. The opportunity to engage in the Development Mapping discussion via Jim’s Google Group outside of and after Global Pulse is to me, a testament of just how seriously USAID and other USG offices took GP2010 and an example of how you are truly using it to inform initiatives. With 7 million children on a waiting list to have their heart repair funded worldwide, I care deeply about the end result of any Development Mapping project – I greatly appreciate the ability to have even the smallest input into the shaping of it.

On a personal level, as I mentioned in my mashable comment, this was the largest discussion between people from hundreds of different countries, cultures, religions & politics where I have seen no hate speech of any kind. It was an inspiring and beautiful insight into the thousands of people whose daily lives are driven by the desire to effect positive change in the world. I was blown away by how intelligent and high-thinking the conversations were. I don’t know everyone who was involved in the creation and implementation of Global Pulse but I suspect you played a large role given your tweets. Please extend my sincere gratitude and congratulations for this incredible achievement to the appropriate people.

Estrella Rosenberg
Founder, Big Love Little Hearts

Blogging from Global Pulse 2010, pt. 2

Global Pulse 2010 is sponsored by The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the Departments of State, Education, Commerce, and Health and Human Services.

The goal was to create a space to connect individuals and organizations working in the developing world in order to build new or strengthen existing relationships, and to inform U.S. foreign assistance and diplomatic strategies on major themes and ideas that emerge during the event. It employs a “bottom up” approach to shaping both future and existing initiatives within the USAID and other U.S. Government Agencies that allows the people who are on the ground dealing with the limitations of current initiatives and thriving in the wake of successful ones to contribute their ideas, best practices and concerns.

You might be thinking that this is a nice gesture and must be yielding some compelling discussions (it is!), but what happens when it’s over? Will any of this actually have an effect on the discussions that will take place within these initiatives after Global Pulse 2010 by the people that are shaping policy and programs? Yes.

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, I can’t disclose the participants in discussions that take place in Global Pulse 2010. I can’t mention who they work for or with and I can’t reproduce anything they’ve written. I can’t share ideas being talked about there unless I am the author of them.

What I can tell you about is my personal experience there.  It has been both my delight and experience that the participants who are members of various government agencies involved in Global Pulse and the developing world in general have done an impressive job of engaging the people who are intelligently talking about problems, solutions and best practices.

Without saying what initiative it’s a part of, I can tell you that someone from one of our government departments responded to a thread I started and I’m now part of a collaborative group created by the USG to realize a solution to the problem I lamented. I can’t post their comments in between, but here is my original post and my replies to the comments. It should give you a good idea of what’s happening within Global Pulse.

You can hear what other tweeps who are participants are saying by following #GP2010 and on twitter and can get real time updates by following me there:

Hi to xxxxxx, xxxxxxxxxx and my fellow participants in this forum!

I’m the Founder of Big Love Little Hearts, a U.S. based organization that helps children with heart defects in developing countries get the lifesaving surgery they need.

We help children all over the world and function almost entirely though partnerships, collaboration and networking so this topic is of great interest to me.

Primarily we work by playing case worker and matching these children up with other NPO’s/NGO’s who already have a pre-existing mission team of pediatric heart surgeons traveling near them. When we can’t find them we find hospitals that are equipped and staffed appropriately and work with them to fund these surgeries. Transportation to and from, housing, aftercare and government regulations are just a sampling of the ancillary processes involved in getting surgery.

All of this takes help from a plethora of organizations and we do our best to locate any humanitarian or government group doing any kind of work anywhere near any of our kids. Despite the years I’ve been doing this I find out about new groups everyday and through various sources: google, twitter, facebook, word of mouth, etc.

There has to be a more streamlined source for this information. Is the U.S. Government working on any kind of database that tracks all of the various groups and agencies doing work in developng countries that NPO’s and NGO’s can have access to?

We have built amazing partnerships but it has taken a tremendous amount of time. I can’t imagine how much more efficiently we could all do our jobs if we were just aware of EVERYONE there was to consider building a partnership with.

Thank you for the opportunity to share!

Thank you so much for your response, xxx. That is very encouraging news and I certainly recognize the many challenges that have stood in the way of something like this coming into fruition before. Indeed those challenges are exactly what I come up against when trying to access this data for my own organization’s use.

I truly appreciate the USG effort to lead the discussion I know will yield a solution that, as you say, we’ll all wonder what we ever did with out. Expediency in connecting need to resources will have a profound effect on the work all of us here do, no matter what our particular cause interest may be.

Once again, I truly appreciate and applaud the approach the USG is taking to this as you outlined it above. You mentioned a variety of participants involved in the conversation. If there is a way for me to continue to be involved outside of this forum, please let me know. You can contact me directly at

Got the invitation – thanks! Impressed by what I saw and look forward to contributing and learning.


Blogging From Global Pulse 2010, pt. 1

Right now I am among more than 1000 people taking place in a 72 hour long online global discussion called Global Pulse 2010.
What is Global Pulse?  Essentially it is a collaboration event to bring together individuals and organizations who are doing work in or have an interest in the developing world. If that sounds like it applies to you, get the heck off my blog and go to now to join in the discussion.
I’m not participating as a blogger and it’s not why I’m here – I’m here representing one of my non-profits, Big Love Little Hearts, whose work takes place entirely in the developing world – but now that I’m here I want to blog about it because it’s awe inspiring!

The discussions going on here are lively and filled with the brightest of minds in various sectors connected to the developing world. I have spent the most time in two groups: Promoting Global Health and Building Stronger Partnerships as these are both central to what Big Love Little Hearts does. I am more than impressed by the ideas and passion of the participants in these groups!
*As a participant I agreed to rules that do not allow me to divulge who my conversations have been with or the exact content of them other than my own words. All content from Global Pulse 2010 is property of USAID, even my own posts, although I have permission to repeat them here as the author.

Following a post I made in reply to a thread in the Promoting Global Health forum I was asked if I leveraged partnerships with organizations local to our work in individual developing countries to help fill service gaps and if so could I share some best practices. This is my response…
Partnering with Other Organizations 02:22 AM UTC Mar 29, 2010

Thanks xxxxx!

Partnering with other organizations and agencies is primarily how Big Love Little Hearts achieves our mission. Even now as we are setting up a country program in the Philippines, we are doing so in partnership with two other organizations.

My best advice and best practices are:

Research: Invest time learning about what other organizations are doing in your cause field, both specific and broad (ex. in my case, congenital heart defects specifically and global health broadly) and where they’re doing it. Then invest some more time learning about what completely unrelated NPO’s, NGO’s and agencies are doing in the part of the world you’re working in. Lack of a unified and central database to access this information makes this an endless task, so spend a little bit of time each day doing it. [calling again for some division of our government to take this project on]

Practice Patience: You have an urgent case and you need help from another organization. You contact them, a couple days go by, you don’t hear from them so you contact them again. With marked impatience. Of course your needs are vital to you,  just like the needs of the organization you’re contacting are vital to them. Which means at least momentarily, they’re more important than yours. When you’re the one who needs the partnership more try to take that attitude with you into every interaction.

Listen: To that end, listen to what their needs may be, what their limitations are, and for strengths & services you might not have known they had. Always try to collaborate and partner in a way that benefits both organizations instead of being a drain of one and a boost to the other.

Ask: Ask for everything you hope to achieve with their help, and if they can’t help you ask them if they know who can. I can’t stress this enough. Not everyone volunteers information, even volunteers!

Be Flexible: Especially when partnering with other organizations to fill service gaps, flexibility is key. Don’t close the door on a potential partner just because they can’t help you in the exact way you envisioned this time around. They might be a tremendous partner in the future!

Have An Army of Volunteer Translators: Most of my best practices are really principles of good communication. If you don’t speak the language of the country you’re doing work in, make sure you have on-call translator to ensure what you’re trying to communicate is being understood correctly and that you understand what is being said back to you. All of the above are useless if language is a barrier.

I hope that helps, xxxxx – I’m certainly no expert but it’s been a part of my daily experience for years.

content category: Best practices & lessons learned