Riva goes to Washington for Medtronic Philanthropy

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I just returned from Washington DC. For the past several years, my lovely, supportive husband has said to me intermittently, particularly when I write something inspiring, “Riva goes to Washington!” In the spirit that I should be invited to address the highest committee on diabetes at the seat of our government. My normal response is to roll my eyes at him and say lovingly, “That’s nice, honey.”

But now I can actually say I went to Washington. I was invited by Abt Associates,  who are working with Medtronic Philanthropy, to create programs that expand community-based access to care and management of diabetes and heart disease in the US, Brazil, India and South Africa. The project is called HealthRise. Above is lovely Ronaldo from Brazil. I’ve met Ronaldo before through his work as an IDF Young Leader with Diabetes.

The emphasis of the three day conference was discussing ways to engage and empower patients. The head of Abt’s Health Division had heard my Award Lecture at the IDF World Congress in December on a Flourishing Treatment Approach and invited me to share it with this group: Public Health PhDs, government reps of diabetes and health organizations, Medtronic Philanthropy grantees and patients.

If I were sixteen years old again my description of the work I got to do with the group would be “awesome.” Working with committed people in various sectors of the healthcare system, from different parts of the world, is a reminder how similar our difficulties are engaging and empowering patients – and making care accessible, especially to low income populations. And it is my personal take, that we shouldn’t be limiting engagement and empowerment to patients, but include health professionals as a group also who need to be engaged and empowered working with people who have a chronic illness.

Unfortunately many health professionals are hindered by their training – knowing only to tell patients what to do and employing little to no empathy and listening skills. Of course there’s also time limitations, crushing budgets and targets to be met and measured. You get the idea.

The highly educated conference attendees quickly grasped the value of adding a positive and possibility-focused flourishing approach to the already traditional more negative and limited-focused coping approach,  working with people who have diabetes. It resonated instinctively. The simple common sense that treating patients like human beings is a powerful connective strategy. And that health professionals aligning as partners, lending support, praising what patients do well, and bringing out patients’ resilience and strengths – that in turn fosters trust, confidence, action and skills – is wholeheartedly where we need to go.

My half day workshop was preceded by a day led by professional story-teller Noa Baum. She taught the group the craft and power of sharing our stories. Especially as telling one’s story relates to advocacy. We experienced the ability of our stories to move others and create trusting relationships almost immediately. And that attentive listening and serving as a Thinking Partner, which I had the group practice, is a gift we give others. It supports people in thinking more deeply and sharing their story with the ease and confidence of knowing you won’t be interrupted.

I commend Abt. It was a risky move on their part to use a story-teller and inspirational speaker when they could have devoted more of the conference to working on organizational and systems issues, data conversion and transference, scaling operations and such. But I think all agreed it was a risky move that paid off. People were excited and energized to see what’s possible and have the opportunity to use the other half of their brain.

At the end of my lecture I facilitated an exercise to help the group bring out strengths and resources in a partner. Then the conference closed with each stakeholder group creating a plan for how they will use what they learned to achieve their project aim.

So, yes, riva’s been to Washington. But word has it, from riva herself, that she wouldn’t mind going again.

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