The slums of New Delhi, India, are grim places. There are mountains of trash, animals marauding and people piled on each other. In 2015, I and members of a charity I chaired at the time, Opportunity International, traveled around the world to meet, train and give microloans to those trying to rise out of poverty.
While in those slums, I went to a rooftop to meet with 10 of our clients. I remember climbing the ladder, all the while steeling myself for what I would see in these circumstances. I expected to see desperation. But that’s not what I found. In this virtually helpless place, every one of these clients were proud, focused and determined; they were changing their circumstances for the better.
What these people found is that work brings dignity and purpose to life. It provides structure, connection, and accountability. Those are basic human needs. Any teacher, pastor or psychologist can tell you that if people don’t have them, they’re not set up for success and happiness.
I have learned throughout my life that any job performed with excellence can be a source of pride. Not all jobs are viewed as glamorous as in our celebrity culture, but every job can provide dignity and purpose.
Sadly, many Americans are locked out of receiving this fulfillment. Too many people are on programs that not only don’t require work, but encourage them not to work. This is no fault of the recipient. It only takes a little empathy to see the lose-lose situation they see themselves in.
When I chaired Good 360, the world’s largest product philanthropy organization, I met a single mother at a diaper bank. She said, “If I get a job, what if I lose it? I will lose everything.” She would have lost her food stamps, unemployment, welfare, everything (and getting back on these systems isn’t easy). We must make it easier for people like this to get back to work. Just getting a check isn’t structure, connection or accountability. It’s a small living, but not a life.
Providing more people with the dignity of work will require empathy and compassion. It is not going to be an easy fix, but with leadership, an eye for possibility and the recognition of the importance of doing a job with excellence, we will improve the lives of our neighbors for generations to come.Carly Fiorina is an American businesswoman and political figure. She is also a speaker at the 2018 Principled Entrepreneurship Conference on the topic of Dignity of Work, to be held Oct-3-5.