by Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University
(originally published in The St. Louis Business Journal)
Gloves, shovels, maybe a paintbrush or two are just a few of the essentials our students, faculty and staff need for this week’s 2012 Webster Works Worldwide service day.
It’s an annual event that allows all our individual hands to become one. Some spend hours making children smile, others brighten the day for the elderly and use muscle to clean parks or sort charitable items. During Webster’s service day we all contribute and together, we exude the power of ONE.
Nancy Brinker embraced the power one person embodies to enact change after losing her sister, Susan G. Komen, to breast cancer. It was 1980 when Komen passed away following a three-year battle with the disease. Before Komen died, her younger sister Nancy promised she would continue to fight for a cure, to eradicate the disease and strive for an end to the social stigma surrounding breast cancer.
So just how much can one person do? How strong can the power of one become? In Brinker’s case, the answers are both measurable and mesmerizing. In its first three decades, Susan G. Komen for the Cure raised more than $2 billion for breast cancer education, research and service. It has also made a lot of people mad.
Just last January some supporters called for Nancy Brinker to step down from her seat as chair of Komen’s board. Komen had just defunded Planned Parenthood affiliates who offered breast cancer screenings and supporters screamed “foul.”
Was Komen placating Planned Parenthood detractors who oppose the other services the nonprofit offers? Was Komen playing politics over its mission to advance the fight against cancer?
Calls for Brinker’s resignation swelled and a backlash against the foundation began chipping away at Komen’s support base and donations. The Komen Foundation maintains the funding issue was an unintentional mistake and when it comes to politics their group is “Pro Cure.” Still, Brinker has since stepped down as Komen’s board chair and says she will relinquish her post as CEO once a replacement is found. Brinker acknowledges that she and Komen have made mistakes, but they will not give up on their fight to wipe out breast cancer.
“Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s mission is the same today as it was the day of its founding: to find a cure and eradicate breast cancer,” Brinker wrote. “We have made mistakes in how we have handled recent decisions and take full accountability for what has resulted … we must learn from what we’ve done right, what we’ve done wrong and achieve our goal for the millions of women who rely on us….”
It is often said that the real measure of success comes from how one reacts during times of tribulation. Anyone can steer a ship over still waters. It’s the storms that define you.
As my father will often remind my sisters and me, we must learn from other people’s mistakes because we can’t live long enough to make them all ourselves. Brinker was hit low and hard, but since then she has gotten back up to regroup. Her next move should be putting her plan in place to win back the hearts and confidence of her supporters, sharing with the world (and at Webster on Oct. 10) how the power of one can still change the lives of millions.
A few years ago I lost Toun, a childhood friend, to breast cancer in the prime of her life, leaving two young children without a mother to take care of them. Yet her story is a microcosm of the bigger challenge that we all face with this devastating disease that’s stealing our friends and loved ones from us. And yet there are so many survivors who have looked cancer straight in the eye and refused to blink. They are survivors armed with the determination to fight and win one day at a time. On Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. at Webster University, we remember our loved ones whose illustrious lives were cut short and celebrate the resiliency of all those battling the disease. We recognize Nancy Brinker for her audacity of vision, courage of leadership, humility from falling and determination to rise again. It’s a lesson about the power of one and the ability to lead from where we are.