The Importance of Listening to the Experts

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Kylie Schuyler

In the nonprofit sector, creating meaningful solutions is essential for success. Partnering with others – particularly academics and industry experts – can be extremely valuable in helping to advise, provide context, measure and validate the results of a nonprofit’s work. And while it’s certainly beneficial to surround yourself with such expertise, a critical component of continued success is to first and foremost listen to the real experts: the people whom your organization serves.

Through my work at Global Girls Leading Our World (Global G.L.O.W.), I’ve learned first hand the power of listening. I first noticed an urgent need while doing volunteer work building schools in Cambodia. I saw that girls were being left out of educational opportunities to an alarming degree. And the more I listened, the more I learned. I came to understand that if we could help girls around the world overcome the barriers they face that prevent them from continuing their education, then their families and their entire communities would in turn benefit and flourish. Bottom line: when girls are educated, everyone wins.

Lead By Listening

A key aspect of our mission at Global G.L.O.W. is to amplify the voices of girls. They tell us about what it’s like to be a girl in the world from their unique perspectives. They tell us what inspires them, what holds them back, and what they hope for. When one girl speaks her truth, it emboldens others to tell their stories too. We believe this is the first step toward igniting girls’ power as a force for global transformation.

We recognize that girls are the experts on their own experiences and in describing barriers to their success. For this reason, our programming and strategic planning is listening-led. A listening-led model means using all the tools you have at your disposal to hear from the people you serve in multiple ways. This includes surveys, needs assessments, observations, pilot projects, and community forums. Taking Global G.L.O.W.’s newest program, Healthy G.L.O.W as an example: we began by listening to girls in the 27 countries in which we run our HerStory Campaign, a program consisting of weekly girls’ clubs and local, regional and global summits that focus on developing modern literacy and self-advocacy skills.

What we heard from listening to girls who participate in the HerStory Campaign is that in many parts of the world, health-related issues present insurmountable barriers to girls’ education. So we conducted a more formal needs assessment, listened in depth to the various health and wellness issues that are affecting girls most, and are developing a specialized curriculum unlike any other that will address their needs. We are now piloting our Healthy G.L.O.W. program in three locations – Kenya, Cambodia, and our home base of Santa Ana, California. The pilot will last for three months and will surely involve a great deal more listening before we roll it out on a wider scale to help girls advocate for their health and wellness so they can stay in school and accomplish their goals.

Empower Local Experts

Photo credit: Monet Izabeth Eliastam

Being listening-led also means that we partner with passionate mentors and program facilitators who are local leaders in the communities where we work. They are the ones who have intimate knowledge of the specific and unique challenges facing the girls where they live. As such, we provide them with curricula, materials and supplies, training and support on an ongoing basis; and we encourage them to contribute their own ideas to enhance our curricula to best meet the real needs the girls are facing. We can’t simply expect to go into diverse parts of the world armed with the latest and greatest trending information and start implementing solutions. For us, the first step is to listen, the second step is to partner with local leaders, the third step is to support and encourage girls through our programs, and the fourth, fifth and sixth steps are to keep on listening!

We work actively with more than 50 partners and community organizations who are delivering our programming on the ground. We utilize a variety of communication tools and technologies to stay actively involved so we can support their work and learn from their challenges and triumphs. We also frequently travel to the sites where we work to meet with girls and their mentors and hear from them in their own words.

When we listen to the experts on the ground, we learn what they really need. Then we can more effectively use all the resources at our disposal to find solutions and tackle the issues that stand in the way of success. No matter which community your nonprofit invests in, the people who live there are the experts. When they speak, the issues become clear. As we work to make the world a better place, let’s always keep listening to what they have to say.


Kylie Schuyler is the Founder and CEO of Global Girls Leading Our World, (Global G.L.O.W.) a 501(c)(3) organization that accelerates girls’ greatness today so they can build a better tomorrow. Kylie is also the Founder and CEO of California Bliss, a social enterprise with 100% of profits benefiting Global G.L.O.W.  She holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology, a M.A. in Counseling Psychology and a B.A. in Economics.

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