I recently sat down with David Cordani, president and CEO of the global health services company Cigna, and Dick Traum, president and founder of the athletic nonprofit Achilles International, to talk about their new book, The Courage to Go Forward: The Power of Micro Communities. We spoke at length about the inspirational events that led to the book, why micro communities are a source of empowerment, and how these close-knit groups of people take on societal issues in ways that benefit communities. Here is some of our conversation:
What inspired you to write The Courage to Go Forward?
Dick: As leaders of organizations committed to making meaningful differences in peoples’ lives, we’ve both witnessed the power that passionate, close-knit groups of like-minded people can have in helping everyday individuals achieve extraordinary goals. We’ve been so inspired that we wrote this book where we share stories of these groups – or micro communities – supporting others, developing friendships and setting goals. It’s incredible to demonstrate and highlight the energy and spirit of those micro communities within this book.
David: Dick and I have seen firsthand the resiliency of the human spirit and how individuals can achieve or even surpass their goals with the benefit of coaching and encouragement. We wanted to write this book to share some of their stories, hoping they inspire others to make a similar impact.
More information on the book can be found at The Courage to Go Forward and all proceeds go directly to Achilles programs.
You write that achieving the impossible creates a “halo effect.” Could you expand on that?
Dick: This feeling is achieved when someone accomplishes something they never believed was in the realm of possibilities. The achievement profoundly increases their sense of self and their confidence. When individuals overcome these obstacles despite whatever challenges have stood in their path, it creates that “halo.” We don’t see their disabilities but instead see their strength and accomplishments. They no longer have the perceived limitations they did before. Instead, they think: “What’s next?”
Consider Zoey Koplowitz, a runner with multiple sclerosis who achieved star power by running several marathons and motivating thousands of disabled children with powerful speeches. Or Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee marathoner who lost her legs in a helicopter crash while serving in the U.S. Army, and became a congresswoman and eventually a U.S. Senator. They all sought support from micro communities to achieve these goals, demonstrating just how powerful micro communities can be in transforming a person’s life.
Why are micro communities uniquely equipped to take on societal issues?
David: Every micro community is unique because the people involved are unique. What micro communities share, however, is their ability to empower others to confront their fears, set new goals, and forge paths they may not have pursued alone. Micro communities can be organized and planned to help individuals over the long term, or they can be spontaneous gatherings responding to a moment in time. This makes them uniquely equipped to take on societal issues – because they are made up of brave, passionate individuals with a common goal. These groups are small, targeted and focused, which makes accomplishing goals feel more accessible.
Dick: In our book, we outline a combination of important business lessons and powerful inspiration for anyone who wants to drive positive societal change. The key is, you don’t have to do it alone. Having just one person behind you, supporting you and cheering you on is often all it takes to tackle a challenge and make a change.
You share how micro communities turn receivers—those who initially seek help—into givers and mentors. How so?
Dick: Since founding Achilles, I’ve always believed that with support, nurturing and training, people with all types of disabilities can participate and succeed in mainstream sports. Together, we’ve fostered a culture of openness, encouragement and inspiration, which has helped make people feel good about themselves and introduce them to achievement.
When people achieve goals through the support of micro communities, it transforms their lives, their perceived limitations and their sense of self-worth. In turn, they are empowered to support others in need. Many of our coaches have disabilities. Consider Jacqui Kapinowski, a paraplegic and Paralympic athlete. When she coaches, our athletes know that what she is suggesting can be accomplished… she has done it! She is a role model – though she didn’t get to that point on her own.
The encouragement she received from her own micro communities is what allowed her to get to where she is today, which inspired her to share this experience with others. This chain reaction has allowed us to continue to expand our community and support those in need.
What’s the history behind the Cigna and Achilles International partnership?
David: Cigna’s relationship with Achilles International dates back to 2008. It was mine and Dick’s shared passion for athletics and societal chance that brought us together. Each year, we try and find new ways to work together and expand our relationship.
Our experience with micro communities and the enthusiasm we share for inspiring and supporting them has been a driving force in our lives. We’ve been lucky not only to be able to contribute to a variety of micro communities as individuals but to develop a long-term partnership between our organizations, which has motivated micro communities around the world.
Dick: Cigna employees have spearheaded active Achilles chapters all over the country; employees run and volunteer as guides, including David, who has guided countless athletes in marathons and other races. Our latest collaboration, the Courage to Go Forward, is filled with a collection of inspiring profiles of Achilles athletes and members of the Cigna community who have faced adversity and gone on to overcome it.
What steps can corporate and non-profit partners take to enact change?
Dick: Provide your employees with an opportunity to take control of a task or project and become involved in its success. Recognize those employees for what they have achieved. Expansion of role responsibilities and feedback are critical to helping employees thrive.
David: We have found that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to helping people and enacting change. However, we have seen how passionate, mobilized micro communities can come together to fill gaps our societal systems cannot on their own. These systems are typically designed for the “average” person – micro communities come together to meet the unique needs of individuals.
So, we’ve devised a 6-step “recipe” featured in the Courage to Go Forward that clearly shows people – including corporate and non-profit entities – how to create and follow through with micro communities of their own to help cultivate the strongest workplaces and employee talent.