People repeatedly have asked me this question about stepping up: what made people finally step up to take action? From my experience there are two primary drivers of stepping up, and they are both illustrated in Rahul’s story. The first is anger, the feeling of having had enough, and the sense that something isn’t right (and that someone has to do something about it). It was Rahul’s anger—about that expensive hotel and dinner in harsh contrast to the poverty he had seen in the villages—that led him to decide that something had to be done. Anger about the slaughter of whales fuelled Rex Weyler, and anger about the casual response to dead people in front of bars motivated Father Crowe.
But the second catalyst seems to be an initial sense of one’s power to change things. The march to the cemetery helped Father Crowe see the potential to bring people together to advocate for change; the funeral of his friend David showed Rahul that one person could have immeasurable influence over others; and the growing number of people who attended the re-spiriting committee meetings at Mercy propelled group members to become bolder in confronting their colleagues.
On the back of the anger and seeing the difference his friend had made, Rahul started an organization named Global Medic and built on a simple principle: get paramedics and other emergency personnel to donate their time during emergencies, raise money for supplies, and try to get to the scene as quickly as possible. Over the last ten years the agency has grown from $8,500 per year in donations to over $1 million. But the impact of the organization is far greater than those numbers might imply, because everyone who provides services is a volunteer.
Rahul has been on the scene of many of the worst disasters of the last decade, including the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the horrific earthquake in Haiti. To this day, the charity has only two employees, and Rahul is not one of them; he still makes his living as a full-time paramedic.
“We have a mantra, ‘The most amount of aid to the greatest number of people, for the least cost,’” Rahul told me.
He was not a fundraiser nor did he have any particular managerial skill. What Rahul had was even more important. He had a desire for things to be better and decided he was the one who could do something about it. During my interview with him, he also gave me one of the most important insights into stepping up, a simple but profound idea: you have to use the gifts you have to work with.
Here is what he told me: “I am a paramedic, so the natural way for me to step up was to go do emergency medicine. For some kid in grade 7, she might be best at holding a bake sale to raise money. If you are a pharmaceutical company, the best way for you to step up is providing drugs, and if you are an airline it is about providing a plane to send the supplies. There is a woman named Sharon who volunteers for us. She works at a local hospital and can’t take off and go to the sites. But she comes and spends hours packing the supplies, so that’s her way of stepping up. Just because you are the one who goes to the far-flung places doesn’t make you more important. Each of us has to step up with what we have to offer.”
Begin Where You Are, Do What You Can