“I had to look at myself and say, Why not me?”
When we talk about Positive Disruption—our theme for Leadercast 2020, happening live May 7th in Duluth, Georgia, and broadcast to locations around the globe—putting an end to child trafficking should be one of the first things that comes to mind. Last Thursday, Feb. 13, was Shine a Light on Slavery Day—a day dedicated to increasing awareness of modern-day slavery and how we can work together to bring an end to it. And right now, 5-year-olds in Ghana are working 16 hours a day fishing on Lake Volta.
In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, we chat with Chris Field—founder and executive director of Mercy Project, a nonprofit working to eradicate child slavery in Ghana, and author of Disrupting for Good—about how Positive Disruption changed his life.
“[The] definition of disruption is to actually stop the normal progress of something,” says Chris in the episode that you can listen to above or via the links at the bottom of this page. “There are so many times and places historically and currently where the normal progress wasn’t good enough. It needed to be made better. It needed to be disrupted.”
Chris learned about the tragedy of child trafficking in 2009 before his first child was born. “I remember the contrast of reading about these children who are trafficked into modern-day slavery and looking at my wife’s growing belly,” he says. “The dichotomy of those two things was striking. It was crushing, honestly.”
A few months later, Chris traveled to Ghana to ask questions about how he could bring positive change to the status quo of childhood slavery that exists in Ghana.
Why Not Me?
To be a positive disruptor, Chris had to ask himself two hard questions: 1) “Am I the kind of person who sees injustice but doesn’t do anything about it?” and 2) “In that case, what am I going to do?”
“That was the first uncomfortable truth,” he explains. “I had to look at myself and say, Why not me?”
When he came home from Ghana, he realized his tears wouldn’t help a single child become free. So he quit his job and started Mercy Project in September 2010. After an exploratory phase in Ghana during which Chris attempted to understand the root of the desperation that would make fishermen (who were once child slaves themselves) purchase child slaves, he began to understand the complexities.
“These children are being trafficked because they’re from very poor families who can’t even afford to feed them,” he says. “They hope if they send them on to Lake Volta, they can at least get some small food.” The children were sold for $20.
Mercy Project helps teach fishermen to do aquaculture, or cage fishing, to earn more money with less men than with all the children combined. They also help the freed children’s families with finances and enrollment in school.
“Over the last nine years, we partnered with 14 fishing communities with a little over 4,000 people across them and we rescued and reunited 158 children back into their families of origin,” says Chris. “All of those kids are back in school or in school or the equivalent trade school for the first time.”
Where Have You Been and Where Are You Going?
Under a mango tree in Ghana, a chief asked Chris, “Where have you been and where are you going?”
“I love that question,” Chris shares. “For each one of us, we would be better suited in our leadership journeys if we would pause more, slow down more and ask each other this question.”
– “Where have you been?” Tell me your story.
– “Where are you going?” Tell me where you see your story taking you in the future.
“One of the things Ghana has taught me is that efficiency is good, but it’s not the king,” Chris says. “It can often lead to us not treating each other as fully human, treating each other more as machines instead of moving us forward in relationship with each other.”
Leaders need to recognize the meaning and importance of community among those they lead. They also need to demonstrate resilience—to endure hardships to achieve goals. “Those who are most successful, both in leadership and, frankly, in life are the ones who are willing to show up and do the hard things,” Chris says.
These two lessons he learned from the community and resilience of the Ghanaians he’s met. “The real power of disruption really begins to take hold when we own that personal responsibility,” Chris says. “We are the disruptors. We don’t have to wait for anybody else.”
3 Key Values for Disruptors:
1. Show up. “Disruptors are uncomfortable with the current truth,” Chris says. “They show up, take action, and persist until a new and better truth is born.”
2. Take action. Even when you don’t know the outcome, you’ll respond to “why not me?” with thoughtful action. This takes courage.
3. Persist. “It doesn’t mean we show up once, twice, three times, five times or seven times,” explains Chris. “Transformation happens in persistence.”
Disruptors for good are ordinary, regular people. Not famous, household names. Not rich and well-educated. They can be normal people who see something that needs to be done to make the world better.
“The difference between the person who wants to create change and the person who actually does it is persistence,” says Chris. “That’s the person who’s going to disrupt for good. That’s the person who’s going to create true transformation.”
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Connect with Chris through his website.