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Farewell Note from Executive Director August Burns

As I sit at my desk on my final day at the helm of Grounds for Health, I will indulge in a few thoughts about what I have learned on this incredible journey.
Perhaps first and foremost is the power of community to make lasting change. It is part of the human condition to strive for a better life, and the coffee cooperatives that we have worked with over the past 10 years—17 strong and counting—have taught us what a community can do given the resources.  Breaking the stereotype of machismo, the men in leadership have repeatedly proven themselves to be fierce advocates for women’s access to services. They care deeply about the women in their lives and take great pride in their contribution to the work.
Our public/private partnership, in which we partner with coffee farmers, local health systems and our coffee funders, has freed us from the ‘tail wagging the dog’ that tends to happen with grant funding. The generosity of the coffee industry has been essential. In addition, the Fair Trade premium brings the farmers to the table as equal partners in this work and allows them to continue it after the ‘aid’ is gone. Our partnership with coffee has allowed us to take anentrepreneurial approach to a major public health program, innovating, testing and changing course when needed. We are the envy of the global health community for our nimbleness which has consistently allowed us to stay ahead of the curve.
Small change can have big impact. While our program prides itself in being lean and nimble—in not arriving with all the answers and deep pockets—its impact far exceeds its size. The value of bringing essential resources, meeting partners as equal contributors and demonstrating success has consistently led to greater impact. Our program has become a demonstration of what is possible, even in the most remote areas.
My journey did not begin with Grounds for Health, but rather ends with it after 38 years working for women’s health and rights. I was raised by a role-breaking mother to believe that women are equals to men in all ways. Unfortunately, this is few women’s reality. And yet, my intimate experience, serving literally thousands of women, confirms my mother’s vision: women rise to every challenge and always amaze me with their strength and integrity. If by some magic—because I’m not sure what else will ever do it—we could create the opportunity of equality for all women, we would unleash the full measure of our human potential.
Women’s lives are valuable to the strength and health of the community and somehow, our powerful little project brings that value into focus. When women are empowered, men are empowered, communities are empowered, and everyone’s life improves.  That empowerment might come in the form of new knowledge about health, or increased respect as demonstrated by a health care program that focuses on saving women’s lives. In every community Grounds for Health has worked, we have seen this transformation happen.
So thank you to everyone who has contributed to making Grounds for Health a success, and please stay with us. As I pass the baton to my able successor, Guy Stallworthy, I know the work will transform and grow to even greater heights. Please join me in welcoming Guy to our team and keep your support coming.
Because after all, many hands make light work.
– August 

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