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By Abby Mihaly '17 and Lydia Smith '17

On Friday, October 23, the Rhodes Fellows had the opportunity to Skype with Harriet Warshaw, the Executive Director of The Conversation Project. The Conversation Project is an organization “dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.” The Conversation Project uses a two pronged approach to do this; targeting the healthcare system itself as well as the general public. Warshaw and her team work to change public policy and the healthcare system to make it easier for patients to talk about end-of-life care before the need is immediate. They also tackle this issue through campaigns, advertising, and an available, free, downloadable “starter kit.”  This kit is designed to facilitate end-of-life-care conversations at home, around a dinner table, rather than waiting until a person is in the ER. This will benefit everyone.  The patient is more likely to have their wishes met if more people are aware of what their preferences are, and family members of the terminally ill are less likely to feel depressed or even guilty over the insecurity in their decisions for their family members care.

One of the biggest issues that the conversation project has faced has been the stigma surrounding talking about death. No matter what culture, country, or social class, these conversations are simply uncomfortable. The Conversation Project is working with people in 12 different countries, and even the most progressive of these countries people still do not want to have this talk.  In a way, this stigma is exactly what the Conversation Project has set out to change.  In educating the communities about the importance of talking about end of life care and preferences, The Conversation Project is contributing to a change in mindset and an overcoming of this stigma surrounding death.

Our case study of the Conversation Project gave us the chance to look at another example of the challenges that social organizations often face.  As many of our case study organizations have been, The Conversation Project is a non-profit organization.  And as is the case with nonprofits, the organization is constantly struggling to produce enough funding to get themselves through the next few months.  95% of The Conversation Project’s funding comes from private foundations.  None comes from the government.  While there is some government energy spent on educating doctors about end of life conversations, no federal funding goes to Warshaw’s organization, which makes it even harder to make ends meet.  Dorothy Stoneman of YouthBuild, who we skyped with a few weeks ago, had a more government heavy approach, but similarly struggled with money.  The issues these non profits face point to the advantages of a hybrid or a for-profit organization.  Social enterprises encompass a range of business approaches, and these case studies allow us to see a range.

Speaking with Washaw was an amazing experience, and furthered our understandings of Social Enterprises. By being able to ask questions and hear first hand from the executive director of the project, we were able to draw connections between the Conversation Project and the other enterprises we have studied.