I was deeply moved by the Economist’s obituary of Lyn Lusi. I had not heard of her or of her work running the hospital, HEAL Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I did not know both George Clooney and Hilary Clinton are among her admirers. I did not know that she was responsible for ensuring the treatment of thousands of women with genital fistula and returning these women not only healed but capable, to families that would have otherwise abandoned them.
I am in awe of her courage, dedication and tremendous heart. Most of us will never achieve what she has, but we can certainly do what we can, and learn from her.
Reading about her life and work made me want to be a better social marketer, and here are but two of the many thoughts I have not been able to put to rest:
- Lusi’s work was desperately needed but in many ways unwelcome. Genital fistula is frankly, a horrific condition, both physically and socially, and efforts to address it are challenged by severe political and cultural barriers. I think we need to be reminded that very often social marketing work is at its core, unwelcome. It’s easy for us, and our clients to assume that communities want to change, that our messages will be embraced. It’s very hard to hear they don’t and won’t, and even harder to find the alternative approach.
- Lusi’s work was comprehensive. Lusi employed women in the community to welcome patients and taught patients valuable skills. If she only advertised that her hospital would treat fistula it surely would been less complicated, more prudent—and also less effective. Social marketers often make the mistake of attacking the problem from only one angle (often the communications angle). Working at Ogilvy, I’m proud to say we strive for comprehensive approaches. However, clients can be afraid to go out of their comfort zone, and it’s easy to let that restrict creativity.
Lyn Lusi was a French language teacher from England who faced fistula in Africa, challenging and working around enormous barriers and her own humble self-perceptions. We can (and should) be braver and more creative in our own way for our clients.
I hope you’ll take the time to read about Lyn Lusi. What might you do more of, or differently (professionally, or personally) after learning about her work?