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What is your role?

By Nejla Liias

In a vast forest, a fire is raging and it is consuming everything. All of the animals of the forest are watching as it burns, feeling completely overwhelmed and powerless – all except for a little hummingbird. The hummingbird flies to the nearest stream, fills her beak with the tiniest drop of water, puts it on the fire, and begins repeating the process over and over again. With focus and perseverance, without losing patience, the little bird flies from stream to fire, never giving up. The other animals look on with disbelief saying, “What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.” And the little, powerful bird turns to them, without wasting any time and says, “I am doing the best I can!”  

This story was told by Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan Founder of the Green Belt Movement and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and it is a story, I believe, that can give us inspiration and guidance in these trying times. We are living in a time when the darkness and the unknown can be very scary, even paralyzing. The proverbial forest is “burning” in so many ways – a global pandemic, forest fires and other climate disasters, pervasive racial and social injustice, women’s rights under attack, eroding democracies, and a growing disconnect pushing individuality over a united humanity. And so many of us feel powerless and disconnected from the idea that we can play a role in finding the solutions.

But, like the hummingbird, we cannot be defeated and render our efforts hopeless. In this darkness, if we are willing, we can find possibility, opportunity, and the promise of change. We can find our unique role in responding to these large and daunting challenges, locally and globally, and together our efforts can garner true change. For me, this work begins on a personal level, asking myself:  What does the world need? What is my role? What do I need to learn to lean into this role?

In 2008, I founded Global Health Visions (GHV), a woman-owned and -operated consulting organization that works to address today’s most pressing global challenges through advocacy, policy, and communications. As a committed advocate for women’s leadership and representation, my role came in the form of actively creating spaces for women to explore existing barriers and leverage opportunities for greater impact and growth.

GHV is built on the idea that we can leverage our individual roles, team strengths, and partnerships to critically examine the structures and systems that exist, reimagine the world we want to see, and build a more just and equitable society. We continually ask ourselves: How do we raise the voices of our partners and those of the most vulnerable communities whose needs deserve to be heard and supported? Our reflection provides the resilience to really take a look at what is happening around us and consider our team’s role in responding to it at every turn. As GHV continues to grow and change, we rise to the challenge of assessing, reimagining, and acting.

In this same vein, I have coordinated individuals in my local community for greater political engagement and have established women’s entrepreneur groups that offer space for learning, sharing, and empowering women business leaders. I have worked in collaboration with committed activists in my community to develop solutions to pressing issues, including immigration and police reform. I am a mother of three, amazing girls, who I know will play an important role in shaping the future. In all that I do, I strive to model the hummingbird’s relentless commitment to positive change.

It is important to remember that every single one of us has a role to play to fight for social and racial justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, access to safe and quality healthcare, ensuring rights for all, reversing climate change, and creating a just world. 

Raising your voice on the issues that inspire you and supporting others in their own journeys is part of this process.  

Sometimes we feel like we are the other animals watching the fire burn and we wonder how we can actually make an impact. The process can be overwhelming and exhausting. It requires leaning into the uncertainty to try and feel empowered by the possibility that can emerge so we can find our role in contributing to change. In the words of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”  Like the hummingbird, rise to the challenge and take your step. 

Nejla Liias lives in Saugerties, NY and is President and Founder of Global Health Visions, a member of the Saugerties Democtratic Committee, the Vice Chair of the Diversity and Party Building Committee for the Ulster County Democrats, a wife, and mother to three fierce future women leaders, aged 11, 9, and 6.5.  In her (rare) spare time, she loves to read, learn more about herself and the world around her, organize others towards a common goal, and be in nature.  Learn more about her work here.

This article is part of GWI’s Illumination series.

By hosting a diversity of voices and sharing the workings of vital initiatives, the Illumination series provides a clearer vision of what Just Transition means, refracted through the living experience and aspirations of the people who are making change today.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Good Work Institute or any other agency, organization, employer or company. And since we are critically-thinking human beings, these views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time. Please do not hold anyone accountable to them in perpetuity.

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