A pick-up truck filled with happy BOMA Mentors after the three-day Mentor University training program.

In the months prior to this trip to Kenya, I had spent a lot of time reading about the success of healthcare in Africa. While economic interventions, in general, have not been overly successful — incomes across the continent are down or stagnant — there have been successes in the delivery of healthcare due to significant investments by organizations like the Gates Foundation. The book Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding — And How We Can Improve the World Even More by Charles Kenny is a fascinating read. At the suggestion of a BOMA board member, I also started reading the articles in The New Yorker by the medical doctor Atul Gawande, such as “The Bell Curve” and “The Hot Spotters.”

I then spent a lot of time looking at the role of community healthcare workers in Africa. I wanted to know what we could learn from their training and empowerment, and how we could apply these lessons to our team of BOMA Village Mentors. In our last impact assessment, we had a 4% failure rate of the first 100 businesses. So I asked the BOMA team, “What if the businesses were patients? Would we tolerate a 4% failure rate? We have participants who live on the edge of survival.  We have a program that helps them feed their families, educate their children and keep them healthy. Are we willing to accept that 4% or more of the participants will fail? What are the consequences of that failure?”

This conversation led to a fascinating discovery. Once we started focusing on our failures, we became more imaginative, more creative. And then we knew what we needed to do. Every organization, for profit or not, likes to focus on its successes. If you are a nonprofit, you especially want to tout your successes, as this enables you to secure more donations.  But in the process of focusing on our failures, we also began to focus on where we could innovate in order to achieve success. And that came down to the training and support of our local BOMA Mentors. They are the heart of our program, and we need to give them every resource possible so they can fortify the success of 100% of our businesses. We set a goal for the following year: a 0% failure rate.

Today was the final day of Mentor University and I had been simply an observer. This was their program and they did not seek an affirmation from me. At Kura’s invitation, I shared some final remarks. The BOMA family beamed back to me with smiles of hope and vitality as I shared the concept of 0% failure. It was a goal — a lofty goal — but I could sense the confidence in the room. Our Mentors come from communities that have been overwhelmed by aid organizations that keep them on life support. Our program represents an opportunity to bring out the strength and resilience that resides in all of us. I could not have been prouder to be associated with this outstanding group of individuals.

Lunch was served and then two vehicles were loaded up with Mentors. Maina would drive a group of Mentors, along with Emma and Sarah, in the Defender — heading to the main road and dropping people at BOMA villages along the way.  Kura had also arranged for a pick-up truck to return another group of Mentors on the way to Marsabit.  Each vehicle was packed with enthusiastic travelers.  Tomorrow Kura, Semeji, Omar and I would be leaving with the remaining Mentors on a weeklong journey to visit BOMA villages and businesses. And that’s when the adventure really begins.