Thursday, March 01, 2012

Now it's personal

Coming back from a business trip to Hong Kong for some planning for 2012, I watched Jane's Journey on the plane. Now, to be honest, BSR's strategizing and planning, though necessary and important, is not hugely motivating. I compare it to the previous two days that I spent baby-sitting in Andrea's office as she kicked-off her incubator: 6 women who want to set-up a social enterprise (a cross between a charity and a business; ideally the best of both) and one woman who already has one and wants to grow it who spent the weekend thinking about why they were there, what they wanted to do and how.

Not only were some of their own stories motivating, but so were some of the speakers who came in, early on a Sunday morning, to share their motivations about what they are doing and why. Just like countless AIESEC conferences that had motivated me in the past, I remember how important it is to be inspired and inspire: to have the conversations that re-energize me. I am fortunate to have so many of these conversations with Andrea and many of our close friends who operate in this space of trying to make a difference in the world. But there is always something special when you hear someone's personal story from their heart – and I am so fortunate to have met so many of these people.

Life at BSR can become detached from individuals, where we work on the organizational level, working with companies and charities, helping them do better things, and to do them better. Of course we talk to people in those organizations, who themselves are comprised of people. But whilst it should be so simple to change things, whilst it should not be necessary to create a business case for doing the right thing, somehow we live in a world where change is difficult, where people don't always act like people but as part of an organization, and where we need to spend huge amounts of time and effort—still—convincing people and their organizations why they should listen to other voices, why they should work with others together, why they should invest in improving things. And of course, we work with them to do this and make those changes in a world that is incredibly complex and where so many things seem to be stacked against making positive change that it needs BSR and many others to spend more effort that one would think necessary to drive change.

And as I sat on the plane watching the film—a documentary about the life of Jane Goodhall, a famous environmentalist who spent years living in the forests of Africa with the Chimpanzees and now inspires literally millions of adults and children through her work—it was the first time that I could think of that fundamental argument (that I, her and many others constantly make) in a new light. For now, when the concept of leaving the world a better place for our children comes up, it is now personal. I have a child, one who I want to live in a better world. This is not hypothetical any more. This is not about realizing how lucky I am or how much need there is, nor even the selfishness of wanting to leave a positive legacy behind. This is really personal.

I don't know if what I am doing—with BSR, with FYSE, with AIESEC or with anyone else I meet and try to help, is making the difference necessary. I, we, need to work out how to make change faster; so that we can create better jobs, products that do not use up so many resources, or societies that inflict pain on others. Listening to Zhong Na, for example, of Hua-Dan, who as a migrant worker stumbled into a program where through theatre she grew her self-confidence and skills and learnt English and was inspired to work for Hua-Dan and now wants to expand Hua-Dan into her own hometown, is inspiring. So is the story of Jane. These personal stories are so important. At breakfast last Saturday morning where we were brainstorming how to help these people, we maybe forgot of the actual people because we talked about role models, and peer pressure, institutional barriers, lack of supporting organizations, lack of funding and everything that we do need to talk about. Everything that we need to fix to help make it easier for people to make the change they want to make. And now, I know I need to help them so they can make the world better for little Hannah.

Watch the film.

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