Debora Fletcher is a woman on a mission. This vivacious mother of 10 has been traveling around the world to share the message of the power of family capital. In June and July she took her backpack and little black purse to Holland, Switzerland, Columbia, and Peru as she researched hunger and agricultural projects, attended lectures at the U.N., and was a delegate to the Organization of American States. Then she took a group of teenagers on a volunteer service trip to her home country of Guatemala. Everywhere she went, she carried copies of the book Family Capital and the SDGs to give away.
In the introduction to that book, Marcia Barlow asks, “Can a person, or for that matter a country, ever have enough ‘capital?’” She continues by discussing various types of capital in business, finance, and economics then posits, “But a less familiar term, and perhaps the most important form of capital, is that of ‘family capital.’ Why? Because all other forms of capital – human, social, cultural, economic – emanate from the well-spring we call ‘family.’” Then Barlow defines family capital as:
Mothers, fathers, and their children engaging in the business of life supported by an extended and intergenerational family network – all working together to create a virtuous web that serves the economic, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of all family members; and ultimately serving communities and nations.
This is the vision that Debora wants to share with the world. She sees family capital as the tool to best meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. That is why she founded Sustainable Families to help fund the book Susan Roylance was working on by collecting donations of “mom money,” which she defined as small donations from household budgets. That is why she worked to help find experts to write on the important topics covered therein, such as the Head of Global Surgery who wrote the chapter on health. That is why she carries copies of the book with her to give away to influential people she meets, even when it means packing fewer clothes.
Of all of the contributions the family can make to improve the world, Debora is personally working to show the power of family capital to end poverty. In both her entrepreneurial and non-profit work, Debora’s focus is on helping “people to feel prosperous inside and out,” because she believes that once people are working from a prosperity mentality they can then work on the other development goals.
Her life is a perfect example of both the power of family capital and working from a prosperity mentality. She was the fifth child of 10 and described what a “huge advantage” she had because she learned to cook over an open fire for 12 people when she was eight years old. She graduated as the valedictorian of her high school, then left Guatemala to attend college in the United States.
When she was in college, she married, and over the course of 20 years had 10 children. She also continued her college education one or two classes at a time to “keep [her] brain exercised” and “as a way to stay connected with the world” as she stayed home to raise her children. Now she also has one grandchild.
Debora also recognizes that while sharing these ideas and the book about family capital with people around the world is important, teaching these principles to her children is more important. That is why she was willing, after getting home at 3 p.m. on July 4, to leave again at 4 a.m. to drive a van with 12 teenagers to the Las Vegas airport and fly to Guatemala for a week to participate in a volunteer expedition with Cultiva International. One of the things that Debora shared about the work that Cultiva does with the volunteers is training them not to focus on efficiency, which can turn into trying to be a hero, but on effectiveness, where volunteers learn to be with the people they are serving, build connections, and teach skills. In this way, when the volunteers leave, the people can continue to work and improve their lives. Debora loved the work of this group and how they help the people they serve to “acknowledge internal wealth and overcome internal poverty.” Some of the highlights she shared were watching the teenagers she’d taken learn to overcome language barriers and “speak human” by caring and laughing and helping, and when she was able to make a connection with two other mothers of 10 and “all barriers came down” and they “were as one exchanging notes on [their] large family raising experiences.”
Connections such as these are powerful, and Debora is thankful for the connections she has in her life with people of many ages because of her children. She is friends with her children’s friends and their parents. One “sign of success” that she is proud of is that “the kids love to come home.” As a message to her daughters, daughters-in-law, and women everywhere she says, “Children do not make you poor. They do not make you stupid. They do not stop your life. Now you have someone to live for, to learn for, to learn with. Teaching, learning, serving together – one of the reasons my life is so abundant is because I have so many children!” This is family capital.