Writing grants has taught me how to fail 30 times. I look forward to the 31st time. Counting failures is something I do now. Something I embrace too. The hurdles or the joy. The writing. The waiting. The bearing witness to, how things we believe in crumble, for lack of funding. And I have believed in so many things that failed. Poured my blood into missions that ended before they even started. I am learning to love all the pain they entail, all the sadness too, or the weight of each failure. Not because success isn’t better. But more so for the lessons every failure teaches. The doors and unexpected journeys along the way they open too.
I wrote a grant on ways to arise, on ways to let minds often ignored thrive. Failing with that grant broke me down that I became the opposite of what we sought to do. My mind failed me too for awhile. Until I started to see the beauty in failing. See that grant would have changed my life but failing it too has opened new and unexpected doors for me. I expected to scream that we got funding to do great research but now I scream we have no funding, but impactful work continues. In fact the most important work you will do, is the work you do for free. The work you wake up everyday to simply do because you have too. The work you use to connect with each other as humans. The work you do to provide light to dark spaces. My grants are often for the eyes of few people to see. But the most impactful work I have done are free, open and accessible for all to see. It cost me nothing to use words, my words to change people’s life. I may have failed to secure funding for my grants, but every day and through my words, I secure hope that connects us to each other. This is the beauty of failure worth spreading. (ps another grant is being reviewed today as I type this, I may get my wish before next week with my 31st failure. Accepting each one gets better with time).
If we keep doing what we have been doing, the odds of getting the same results will be high. It’s for this reason I am drawn to grants that ask for innovation. Transformative ones too. Today, I sat through an NIH webinar focused on a transformative grant application to address health disparities and advance health equity. I was curious to know what the NIH was interested in. For starters, they want the most innovative and most impactful research. It must have the potential for transformative impact. No preliminary data is required too. Bring your best ideas the NIH says and when you do, may they be transformative, as such activities are urgently needed to prevent, reduce, or eliminate health disparities and advance health equity.
Ever since I came across this request for application, I have been struck by 2 things: 1) what does the word ‘transformative’ mean and 2) by whom. One of the best grants I have ever read once stated the follow and I’m paraphrasing; ‘individual researchers innate tendency to group think often results in homogeneous ideas that are then implemented on communities without an understanding of whether these interventions are truly what communities want in the first place.’ Ever since I came across that grant, I have always wondered whose agenda truly wins in the end. Certainly not the communities as many of them do not have the necessary skills or time to write such complex grants in 2 months. You guess it. You only have 2 months to write this particular grant. Meanwhile, communities have more pressing issues to deal with like today. Then there is the word ‘transformative’, by who, another researcher, another member of the academic community with their views on what is right or wrong that is often not in alignment with those of communities. It’s for this reason that I adore my background in culture. For starters, as my advisor would say, I don’t have any answers. It’s a privilege to even work in communities. Our research approaches communities from the standpoint of communities themselves having all the solutions to their problem. They live in and love their communities after all. We get to come in and out but communities remain with or without us. Making sense of what then is transformative would be futile if the community is not invited to the table in the first place.
So back to the request for proposals. What does the NIH want? You guessed it, transformative research to address health disparities and advance health equity. And how will we know that a research is transformative. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. But if individual researchers innate tendency is to group think, then what is transformative would indeed be subjective since it left to researchers to decide what they feel per your scientific rationale of course. Now when you bring in the lens of communities, when you tell them that it’s up to them to decide just what they believe is transformative to them, then maybe we may get to the bottom of health disparities. It’s why I am drawn to these types of request for proposals and ask that you pray for our success. Keep communities designing transformative interventions by communities themselves not researchers in mind with our own agendas. That to me is where transformation begins.
What if we could dream up the perfect research or project? What will it entail and why? Who will you partner with and why? And how far will you go to create something innovative. The grant writer in me dreams of opportunities that allow me to wet my soul literally speaking. I am a sucker for grants that want innovation. Those that demand for it make me weak. Grants unafraid of researchers willing to go there are my weakness for I will. I have the tenacity and determination to think up crazy ideas if only they will make it out of my head and into something easy to understand. Yesterday, brainstorming with my team was one such rare opportunity where I let my mind and heart dream of the perfect research experience. They asked what will it entail. Before I even knew what it would be, I said of course something on storytelling and grant writing. Anything that lets you know whoever you are that would want my services, that I would be willing to join you on this adventure called life. The journey is yours, but mine too. We came up with a name. It’s in praise of an endless journey. One that I would take for the perfect grant. If only those exist. Till then, keep dreaming.