Boy using an electric grinder on a post with sparks flying

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.Proverbs: 21:13

Shared Values: Gyroscope Stability at the Edge of Chaos

“If I don’t like her, I’m sending her back to your mom the next minute!” Yikes! I’d never seen my usually mild-mannered grandma so vehement!

Yet who could blame her? Her strength was ebbing. She needed extra care. But that’s what made her so vulnerable. As vigilant as my mother may be, an outsider caregiver would work with grandma unsupervised. We needed someone we could really trust—to put grandma’s best interest first. Not a mere hireling, motivated by cash carrots or sanction sticks.

Where in the world can you find someone like that? As a matter of fact, in Egypt. Someone like Amal.1

Amal was caring for a disabled client when fire broke out in a Cairo high-rise. That grandma’s relatives fled, screaming for Amal to save herself for the sake of her own children. Yet without hesitation, Amal wrapped grandma in a blanket, hoisted her up, and carried her down flights of stairs.

Why did she risk her life? No one could have blamed her for fleeing. No one could have paid her to stay. But for Amal, that grandma was no client. ”She’s like my family! I have to save her!”

Her decision displays her non-negotiable inner guidelines for her behavior. In other words, her values.

Dreams InDeed strengthens indigenous social entrepreneurs in hard places to enable the poor to thrive as God intended. In case after case, we’ve found that shared values, clearly articulated and consistently practiced, are the critical factor that enables disparate actors to collaborate against the odds.

Shared values provide resilient networks with both the stability and flexibility required to engage complexity “at the edge of chaos.” Shared values foster aligned participation, adaptive leadership, and sustained trust.

Amal is part of a transformation underway in Egypt that illustrates the critical importance of shared values to achieve social impact. Just a few years ago, Amal would have been among Egypt’s unemployed.2 And that grandma? She would have been among Egypt’s elderly and chronically ill without affordable care.

Egyptian physician Magda Iskander recognized the untapped potential of the unemployed and the unserved needs of the elderly and chronically ill. Putting the two together, she founded the social enterprise Care With Love, which creates dignified employment for the marginalized by training them to provide loving, competent, affordable home healthcare to house-bound patients.

Dr. Iskander aspired to deliver more than medical skills when she named the enterprise Care With Love. She modeled and insisted upon the practice of values in caregiving relationships, and encouraged values reflections during training.

Then Care With Love expanded by franchising. Its medical skills training transferred readily; however, its trademark quality of relational caring suffered. Dr. Iskander diagnosed that values were the issue. The challenge was to instill Care With Love values in a growing and diverse network of caregivers.

Dr. Iskander called upon Dreams InDeed to facilitate a participatory process to identify and define caregiving values with Care with Love’s diverse stakeholders. These core values emerged from their shared experience:

  • Faithfulness, integrity in word and deed;
  • Humility, equal respect for all;
  • Commitment, honoring rights in word and deed;
  • Teamwork, collaboration for one goal;
  • Acceptance of the Other, engagement with all our differences; and
  • Sacrificial love, giving without limit or condition.

Then, to ensure consistent promotion of these core values, Care with Love and Dreams InDeed collaborated with an Egyptian education specialist to create and publish a values curriculum, drawing solely upon indigenous cultural sources, including the Bible, Islamic texts, Egyptian folklore, and organizational history.

The outcome, after 18 months of values curriculum training? Statistically significant, positive impact on the average performance of caregivers, with accelerated improvement of top performers.3

The values assimilation process strengthened three dynamics already at work in the Care With Love network:

  • Aligned participation. Participation with mutual respect inspires alignment based on shared values rather than compliance with external controls or monetary incentives. One veteran caregiver stressed: “The values we have acquired are not ‘outside us’ for work alone, but ‘inside us’, practiced in our lives both on the job and outside.”
  • Adaptive leadership. Internalization of shared values enables people to practice them in new contexts, equipping them to handle dynamic situations consistently, even when “rules” do not provide clear answers. Amal’s decision to save her client from a burning building is just one example.
  • Sustained trust. The network currency is not fee for service, but rather the exchange of love and respect, generating trust as social capital – even across sectarian divides. One caregiver reported, “When I first went to my elderly client, she refused to shake hands or relate to me because I was wearing a full veil. So I decided to be patient. If she refused me, that was her right. I removed my veil when I was with her; I was cheerful with her. Slowly, she accepted me. Now I go with her to church and shopping, and she even trusts me with her purse.”

This case has implications that transcend its home healthcare network of caregivers and clients. Social impact consultants4 and complexity theorists5 alike are converging on the discovery that social change in the context of complexity cannot be achieved through pre-conceived solutions.

Rather, stakeholders must have both resilient flexibility to conceive of and implement emergent solutions adaptively, as well as reinforcing forms to channel and sustain productive working relationships.

Kania and Kramer’s “rules of interaction” for collective impact provide helpful guidelines for cooperation.6 Emergence, however, requires both more (deep-rooted ties) and less (predetermined structure). Sustained trust nurtured by shared values that are mutually defined, internally integrated, and consistently practiced can achieve this dynamic balance in contexts of complexity.

Values function like a gyroscope, a spinning wheel or disc in which the axle is free to assume any angle. While a gyroscope is spinning, it maintains extraordinary stability, withstanding powerful forces, even the force of gravity.7

The Care With Love network exhibited this momentum and stability during the Egyptian revolution. Some caregivers shifted schedules to comply with curfews, arriving at client homes early or even staying overnight. One took risks to juggle client and family care: “I was with an elderly woman who had Alzheimer’s. She was alone with her elderly husband and I couldn’t leave her. I made sure to go to her despite the danger in the streets, and took my daughter along. I got caught once in a demonstration and had to run with my daughter.”

As extraordinary a case as Care With Love may be, it is not, and need not be, exceptional. Emergence cannot be engineered by applying rules and negotiating agreements alone. However, we can intentionally surface, define, and nurture shared values that will set the stage for emergence, and therefore the synergies of collective impact.

At Dreams InDeed, we are eager to explore the implications of the dynamic role of values for social impact with other practitioners serving social entrepreneurs in hard places.

Are you part of a social impact network at the edge of chaos that needs some stability? What are your thoughts and experiences on the role of values in achieving social impact? We want to hear from you.

Send your feedback to gro.deednismaerd@golb.

For a deeper look at the Care With Love Case, download our published research.


Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love. ~ Khalil Gibran


1  A pseudonym.
2  Even before Egypt’s revolution devastated its economy, 62.4% of Egyptians with secondary education, and 32.8% with university education, were unemployed. See Handoussa, H. (ed.) (2010). Egypt Human Development Report 2010 (United Nations Development Programme and the Institute of National Planning Egypt), available at http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/243/egypt_2010_en.pdf, p. 268.
3  See Haskell, D.L., Haskell, J.H. & Pottenger, J.J. (2012), ‘Harnessing Values for Impact Beyond Profit in the Middle East and North Africa’, in Jamali, D. & Sidani, Y. (eds.), CSR in the Middle East: Fresh Perspectives, (London: Palgrave Macmillan), p. [11ff].
4 See, for example, Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (Jan 21, 2013), ‘Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity’, in Stanford Social Innovation Review, available online online at http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/embracing_emergence_how_collective_impact_addresses_complexity
5 See, for example, Goldstein, J.A., Hazy, J.K. and Lichtenstein, B.B. (2010). “Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership: Nonlinear Science to Create Ecologies of Innovation,” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).
6 Kania and Kramer identified (1) common agenda, (2) shared measurement, (3) mutually reinforcing activities, (4) continuous communication, and (5) backbone organizational support as the five critical “rules of interaction” for collective impact. See Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (Winter 2011), ‘Collective Impact’, in Stanford Social Innovation Review, available online at http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact
7 To inform this gyroscope metaphor on the function of values in force fields, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cquvA_IpEsA
Bookmark and Share