Rotary Minute: Marcy Lowe

Let me tell you the story of Play Pump. Picture a merry-go-round—the round platform that children push and then jump on while it spins. This merry-go-round is hooked up to a water pump. This was a project in Sub-Saharan Africa, where clean water is scarce, and children are plentiful. So every time the children spin the merry-go-round, the pump is activated, water fills an elevated tower nearby, and now the village has clean water.

Brilliant, right? Donors flocked to it. Money poured in. They started building PlayPumps all over. Two years later, the merry go-rounds are rusty, broken, they won’t turn. PlayPumps are abandoned. No one had asked the villagers, Do you want this? Will you use it? Will you maintain it?

And that’s how a really cool project failed.

This story has been told really well by the New York Times and others. I repeated it as a way to illustrate what I do for a living. I have a consulting firm called Datu Research, and our clients are leaders who are tackling big challenges, like how to feed 10 billion people in 2050. We’ve done work for foundations–Walton Family Foundation, Rockefeller, Gates Foundation—and for advocacy groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and others.

We go out in the field and listen to people, and we challenge assumptions, so we can help our clients base their decisions not on hunches, but on actual input from the people who are affected. In our agriculture work, that’s the farmers, ranchers, fishermen.

So that’s what I do. My husband and I have lived in Durham 26 years. We raised our kids here. We are Durham people. But I only just this year joined Durham Rotary, and I’ll tell you what prompted me.

Rotary International became a client. They hired us to help answer a big question: Now that we’ve about licked polio, how do we stay relevant in the world? And in particular, how do we scale up the impact of our global grants?

So our team set out to listen directly to Rotarians all over the world. We traveled to 17 countries on 5 continents. We interviewed 574 people. We did this in 6 months.

Rotarians showed us their work in those six focus areas the District Governor mentioned in our meeting last week—education, disease, maternal and child health, sanitation, peace, economic development.

It was a fascinating project. Whether we were in Ecuador, or Uganda, or India, or Papua New Guinea, it was amazing to see how hard Rotarians work to improve people’s lives, and to build a better future for their communities.

And it made me want to join my own local Rotary. Made me want to have an impact here in our own community. So that’s how I got here. After all this time in Durham, I have finally joined this wonderful club.

I’m new, I still have a lot to learn, and I’m so grateful to be here with you all. Thank you!

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