Talking To The Right People

Pritpal S Tamber

February 17, 2017

Why it matters, why it's hard and why it's an ask filled with inequity

I’ve got real estate agents valuing my apartment right now. I’m trying to decide whether to move out, rent my place, and move back in with my parents to help fuel the runway we think we need for Bridging Health & Community. I live in Clerkenwell, London. It’s in the heart of the city and it’s the kind of place that real estate agents want to have in their inventory for corporate clients. The City of London is less than a mile away.

I’ve been amazed at how different the agents’ advice has been. Two specialise in corporate clients so they were pretty boiler plate, including all the tedious checks and balances that such clients demand. But one specialised in the student market and his advice was completely different. Like, totally. What to do in each room, how much the place was worth, and when to advertise it. It was quite eye opening to see my place seen from such a different lens.

All The Difference

It reminded me of the importance of talking to the right people. Over the last four years I’ve spoken to hundreds of people about the value of “community” to health. Most don’t get it (or say they do but patently don’t) but those that do, get it with gusto. The difference, in terms of the quality of the conversation, the value of the follow up, and the potential of collaborative work is immeasurable. One ‘right’ conversation can make all the difference.

Perhaps the most ‘right’ conversation I’ve had was with Ollie Smith, then of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. He got it. But he’s also British so he was pretty skeptical. As a funder, he decided to test it by offering me some money to help me bring like-minded people together – and (hey presto!) the Creating Health Collaborative was born. Right conversation, great result.

Making Things Happen

The money was only £20,000. What really mattered was the sense of endorsement that comes from the right kind of people ‘getting it’. Things happen.

The trick, of course, is finding the right people.

In my experience, there’s no silver bullet. You have to be smart, of course, but there’s no substitute to just being out there and talking and talking and talking. There are lots of cul-de-sac’s to walk down, lots of un-replied follow-up emails to get frustrated by (a sure sign that someone is so the wrong person, just based on manners and values), and lots of – to be blunt – hangers-on that want to be involved in something cool but don’t actually want to commit any effort. But if you plug away somehow the law of averages throws you a lifeline.

Different Averages

But that’s not true.

Your average and my average differ. It all comes down to your network and some people, by virtue of their background, income, confidence, and pure chutzpah, have bigger and better connected networks than others. Mine, to be honest, is rubbish. My ability to reach the right people is pathetic. I’m not from a privileged background, my income is laughable, my confidence is fragile and I’m way too British to score too highly on chutzpah.

So what to do? I’m not sure. It seems to me that some people are born into networks that facilitate. Others are not. You can fight your way in but you’ll always be an outsider. You might get traction for a while but you’re always likely to be jettisoned, especially if an ‘insider’ comes along with a similar message. It’s a fragile existence.

Where’s all his going? I’m not sure. I’m just left with the feeling that conversations with the right people are crucial but access to the right people is inequitable. And that feels all wrong.

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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