Transforming the comparison trap into the compassion trap…

Shankill Castle Feb 2015-89

I want to let you in on a secret folks. They don’t. Trust me. They don’t.

Who don’t? What don’t they? I hear you say.

Have it all figured out. I add. And ‘they’? Well they are all of us. 

Ah, a sigh of relief.

More and more, this is what I see: people trying, people struggling, people fearing and so many people thinking they have to have it all figured out and worrying that they don’t.

In the world of fast paced social media it is so easy to look around at other people and think they have it all sorted. We can look at their websites, glam shots, followers, comments, media coverage, products, services, sexy lives, sexy bodies, sexy friends, sexy everything and think… they have it all. In doing so we can feel so far removed that we think we can never ‘get there’, and so we don’t bother, or we stop believing, or we feel like hiding under the bed covers and never coming out.

I am not fully sure where ‘there’ is, but one thing I am sure of is that it is not a fixed place, or number, or a bank balance. Ask any one of those people is they think they have it all sorted, or figured out and I am pretty sure that they’ll say no. How could they?

And why do I know this? Because by virtue of the fact that life is a creative act and art, living it is a creative process, and, at best, the creative process is messy. In many ways, the messier the better. The mess is so much part of the process that it is the process. It is by navigating the mess that new ideas and connections can emerge. The mess offers us a chance to explore and make non-direct linkages, which leads to new pathways. The mess is not negative, but necessary. 

But I also suspect this: that behind the scenes of every glam shot, or every instagram tally, or every six-figure business owner, is a person desperately willing themselves on to navigate this messy and complex and beautiful thing called life. Behind the scenes, in fluctuating waves, there is also doubt, uncertainly, fear, courage, love, trust, pain, resistance, self love, self loathing, persistence, frustration, joy, anger and hope. Those feelings are there because they are intertwined in the human condition; they are all part of the natural emotional and cyclical journey of life.

When we start to look over our shoulders it is all to easy to fall into the comparison trap. And it is exactly that- a trap. It snares us and stops us from making progress and building traction. It keeps us looking over our shoulder, forgetting to look within and making the next move which is only ours to make.

Sure we can be inspired by others and learn from others, but let’s not assume they have it all figured out. It’s not fair on us, and it’s not fair on them.

So, here’s another little secret from behind my own scenes: I am writing these words today because I needed to hear them myself. I so needed to hear them. All morning that comparison trap had its jaws wide open and was leaning in to pounce. Much as I hate to admit it, I found myself flipping through instagram, on websites, making judgements. Beyond the judgements, at a deeper level, I was criticising myself which went something like this: ‘you should be doing more, you should have it sorted, you’ll never get there, ‘X’ can do it, why can’t you…’  Pretty soon there were tears, pretty soon I wanted to give up on it all, and pretty soon I was in a darker state of affairs….

WOAH. WOAH. Slow down there woman, steady up” Another saner part of my brain chimed in.  I suppose I could see what was happening.

So, what to do? Well today, knowing that a break of scene was required, this is what I did:

I turned off my phone.

I went for a walk to the post box and then delivered the post to the elderly man who lives beside me. We had a chat about daffodils and chaffinches.

I had a very hot shower.

I lit the fire. Then a candle. Then some incense.

I made some tea and sipped it slowly looking out at the rain.

I cuddled my dog. And then again.

I took a deep breath and I realised I need some reminders of the progress I have been making, and so I got out a bunch of journals and read back. Then I took out my computer, opened a blank document and started writing, as a reminder that I am just trying to figure it out, one step at a time. We all are.

So let’s give ourselves some slack and wiggle room, and see if we can transform that comparison trap into a compassion trap. For us. For them. For each other.


Learning for transformation

vision day jan 2017-40

 

Now that cycle two of Thrive School is coming to a close, I like to take a step back and capture some of the learnings so as to build upon them for the next phase. Here are a few reflections on the learning required for transformation, and at the end of each one, I offer a question to you about how you may apply it to your own learning and visioning as you evolve your own ideas and being.

Deep, transformative learning and change is accelerated through clusters. 

There is power in the pack. When that pack becomes a nurturing, listening, open and supportive space, even more so. When we think of entrepreneurship we often think of the solo/ individual action and hierarchy: the lone warrior, the lone wolf heading out to hunt its prize. But look at nature- it doesn’t flourish that way. Wolves operate in packs and their ecology is deeply connected not only to  their own place in their family, but also, as the poet Mary Oliver describes it, ’in their family of things (This video, how wolves change rivers never ceases to amaze me). We see ‘bunches’ of flowers, murmurations of starlings, and even trees- which we often think of in the singular- as collective, connected, communicative systems. The wellbeing of every individual within the pack is intimately woven into the wellbeing of the eco system into which they grow.

As Thrive School evolves, so too will the emphasis on ‘pack’ learning– using the space of connection, listening and support to create eco-systems or clusters from which growth can emerge.  So much of education, and business operates from the old paradigm of competition, but flip that and we have the opportunity to evolve new ways of collaborative learning, and business.

While on a small scale currently, what I have seen in Thrive School is glimpse of this new paradigm. By cultivating safe, supportive, nurturing environments, when people have the chance to tease out ideas, test assumptions and feed back to the group without fear, we can also cultivate a field which brings out the best in all of us and builds upon the best ideas, projects and visions.

**Can you create your own creative cluster? Who around you is craving this kind of support and would be willing to cluster around you too? ** 

 Practice makes progress

dublin-flea-market--dec-2011-1038_6537068837_oCultivating the place of inner knowing is critical to sustaining our entrepreneurial journey. It is both an art and a practice. Life is chaotic, but when we have some form of daily practice in which we tune into our inner knowing, we learn to navigate the chaos with greater fluidity and skill. We have a place to bring our challenges before they overwhelm us. Our practice becomes a way to listen to our inner guidance, and then use this guidance to carry us forward.
We can cultivate this inner place in many ways by creating and safeguarding pockets of stillness and listening into our daily life. For some this is meditation, for some yoga, for some walking in nature, or painting. Whatever it is, when it allows us to drop into a deeper sense of being, and connect with our bodies and breath, this listening space is a  beautifully ripe ground for asking questions to your inner self: what are my next steps, what am I not seeing, who should I connect with, how can I evolve my current offerings. Through this we can develop our vision and tune into our gut instincts, thereby creating a deeper sense of trust in our own decisions and next steps, our own sense of progress. On days when life feels even more chaotic and when we feel we don;t have the time, that’s when we need it the most.

**What daily practice draws you? And how can you safeguard this precious time each day? 

The magic is in the space between us – the power of connected listening. 

Deep down I think we all know our answers. There is guidance available to us and our bodies can tell when we have tapped into it. And yet it is hard to hear or to distinguish the ‘knowing’ voice from the inner voice of criticism and judgement. So creating safe listening spaces, where we can talk out our ideas with another person and learn to distinguish between these voices is so important. The listening is a craft which can be honed. We can learn to listen for the tone, energy and the message behind the words, and we can learn to ask clarifying questions so that new insights can emerge and blind spots be revealed. When we approach the space between us with sacredness and our conversation as a sanctuary, it hold a special magic and momentum. So, it’s in the space between us- the interaction- where a clink of clarity, understanding and insight can emerge.

**Who can you buddy up with to have a regular listening conversation with? How do you think you can improve your listening skills? **

 

vision day jan 2017-13

Invite fear to the table. 

Ask anyone why they aren’t pursuing their big dream, their highest potential and what is really calling them, and it’s likely that ‘fear’ will feature very highly on their list of reasons. There is almost a sense of shame around naming fear for what it is. ‘I’m afraid’ sounds week, almost childish. We were afraid of the dark, or afraid of ghosts- but that was back then, so why does fear rule the roost now too? And so because it seems childish we tend to hide it and feel isolated in our fear, thinking we are the only ones who experience it. But when we think on evolutionary terms, fear is a natural biological response mechanism to protect us from harm, danger and risk. It protected us in the wild, in the dark, and it continues to protect us from physical danger. So when it comes to building our own business, or following though on something which is pushing at the margins of our experience and learning, putting us in a vulnerable position, it is natural that fear will kick in too. And so, rather than ignoring it, or denying it, we need to learn to invite fear to be at the table and have frank, honest and open conversations with it. We can journal about, talk about it with a friend or mentor, we can give it a place without it having to run the show. When we learn to observe the fear, see what impact it is having on us, name it, we can then ask for it to release it grip and allow hope, possibility and love to be the currents which carry us onwards.

** Here’s a little practice -spend 5 minutes journalling your response to the following questions: 

In what ways is fear holding me back? 

What one thing can I do to today that can help me to befriend my fear? 

Structure = Flow.

Boundaries, discipline, even timetabling, often viewed as restrictive, are tools to help us create and maintain flow. In Thrive School we have been referring to them like the banks of a river. Without the banks we get floods, deltas, and at times, chaos. The banks help to direct the course. And yet the banks are being constantly eroded and re-deposited; they are not rigid walls but flexible, malleable and adaptive. Creating a weekly structure which is firm enough to create focus while adaptive and flexible enough to respond to opportunities is the key.  Our ultimate freedom comes when we understand and embrace the structures which work best for us. What boundaries do we need to have around how we plan our time, for instance; or what parameters do we need have around our spending and savings for financial flow. It’s the boundaries that give rise to the freedoms that we choose

Where do your own ‘banks’ need to be strengthened for you to create more flow? 

Think Big, Start Close, Act elegantly… 

There can be such amazing power in having a big compelling vision and to be really clear on your ‘why’. This is what attracts people, carries momentum and can keep you motivated on even the hardest of days, but we also need to learn to hold the future in the present, and not let our distance from our future possibility distract from the beauty of today, of who is around us now, the gift of the current challenge and what opportunity is emerging just ahead of us, for the future begins in our very next moment. So, as the poet David Whyte says, ‘start close in’ with the step that is next to take. In Thrive School we talk about finding your ‘elegant’ next step- it may be strategic, it may be tactical, but can also be graceful, easy, accessible. Step by elegant next step we build momentum and gain traction.

What is your elegant next step? 

 

….

Thrive School Dublin starts on March 11th. Apply online by March 3rd. Find out more over here. 


The value of values // Plus a 7 step creative exercise for you to know yours..

vision day jan 2017-17

 

I’m not a fan of cheesy clip art. But for the sake of illustrative purposes, this one does the job!

Vector-BoatIf our goals are like the sails on a sailing boat, then the keel is like our values. The keel is the central axis which helps to keep the ship afloat and provide ballast. In choppy waters, it’s the keel which will help to bring the boat back to upright (note addition of choppy waters in said illustration!) Same too with our values- they act as weights and axes around which we can centre and steady ourselves, and keep ourselves true to our intention and truth.

However like the keel, our values are below the surface, which is why they are often hard to identify and to appreciate the role that they play in our decisions, actions, and outcomes. And yet, deep down, it’s our values which help us sense if we are on the right path and feel aligned or congruent with our sense of self- which is why making a conscious effort to identify them is so important.

Getting clear on our values helps us to design our lives, businesses, interactions and projects with more clarity and intention. They help us have better relationships- personally and professionally. When it comes to business they can help us to design customer or client interactions. And importantly, when we hit choppy waters, they help to keep us resurface and stay afloat.

Trust. Integrity. Honesty. Quality. Joy. Play. Freedom. Leadership. Creativity. Adventure. Responsibility. Kindness. Compassion. Authenticity. You’ll have a set of values unique to you, some more prominent or stronger than others.

vision day jan 2017-4

How can you identify them?

Well interestingly we often sense them most clearly them when they have been breached. If trust is a really strong value for you, and someone breaches your trust, you may feel the reaction at a very deep, visceral level. If professionalism is a value and you attend an event which is so poorly run, you may feel a personal affront and anger at the low quality of service. Or if kindness is a value and you witness someone being unkind to another it can alter how you view and in turn value that person. We can also identify them by recalling times in our lives in which we felt a consistent happiness, aliveness or sense of pride. It is likely that your values were being honoured and amplified during these times.

Our values shape the quality of our collaborations too. For instance, understanding where values overlap and where values differ is critical to successful collaborations and so learning to have open conversations with our partners and collaborators is vital to thriving interactions.

We often assume that we hold similar values to those around us, but it’s surprising how much variance there actually is, especially when we see how people individually prioritise those values. If one business partner has a top value priority as ‘freedom’, for example, and another has ‘safety’, then there is a potential clash zone. Maybe the ‘freedom’ person is more likely to take risks in the project and wants take big leaps than the safety person, who values gradual iteration and growth. If you are thinking of going into partnership with someone, doing the values identification exercise below is a great way to tease out potential synergies, challenges or even clashes in advance.

vision day jan 2017-3Plus, when we get explicit about our values it can help us to figure out what to do when we are stuck in a rut or facing a challenging decision. Let’s say you have listed ‘integrity’ as a value, then, when you need some inner direction, you can ask yourself (or your team), ‘What would integrity do now?’ Or if creativity is a value, ‘What is the best use of creativity here, or what is the best creative solution for now?

So, you can see, not only do are values act as stabilisers, they act as propellors too!

(Herein ends the cheezy boat/ ship/ sailing/ choppy waters analogy. RIP clipart)

 

 

……………………………………….


How to identify and prioritise your values: 7 Step Process

Below is a 7 step value identification exercise, developed as part of the Thrive School curriculum. This exercise can be done alone, however it works best where there are at least 3 other people in the room working on it, as it gives you a chance to compare notes and learn together in conversation towards the end.

Time: Initially 45-60 mins. With a 5 review one week later.

Needs: Sticky notes. Blank wall space. Pens.

 

The Process:

Step one: The big list

Write out as many values as you think you have, each one on a separate sticky note. Give yourself about 10 minutes.

A good way to accessing your values is to think about times in your life when you were most happy, and most proud. It is likely that your core values were being honoured during these times.

Or maybe you can recall a time when one was breached? You’ll know if you felt it at a really deep level and it may have been hard to let go of the experience or build trust again.

Step two: Viewing platform

Place all the sticky notes on the wall- take a step back and view. Are there ones that should not belong there? Are there any missing?

Step three: Identify patterns and clusters.

Start placing values which you think belong together in clusters. For example you may think that ‘ integrity’ and honesty should be side by side, or ‘fun’ and ‘play. You may find a clusters of values coming together. Review your clusters. Are there any patterns you see in your values?

Step Four: Prioritising values

vision day jan 2017-9Select your top value from each cluster and place them all together. Depending on how many clusters you had you’ll have a set of values. From these, can you keep removing or adding one until you have 5 values in this group.

Again take a step back. Are these your top five? Sometimes the arrangement of how you place your sticky notes on the wall can tell you something about your priorities. For example: you may have placed them all in a row and have given them all equal value; one may be in the centre and the others radiating from it like spokes on a wheels; or one may be above another. Look at the shape and the form which you choose to place the sticky notes in. Spot any patterns or does the formation give you any clues?

 

Step five (if you are doing this with a group of people)

Bring your top 5 values together as a group. Invite others to view them and ask you questions about your set. Why did you choose this one over that one? How does this one relate to that one? Why not this one? Spend a bit of time teasing out your choices in conversation with others. After the conversation review your set again. Are you happy with this selection?

Step Six

For the following week keep your list of top 5 values visible to you (post them on your bedroom door or beside the bathroom mirror to remind yourself). For the duration of the week track to see how you represent your values in day to day life. In what ways are they honoured? In what ways have they been breached? How have they helped you make decisions during the week?

Step Seven

After a week of tracking your top values take a few minutes to review them. Are you satisfied with your selection? Do you want to swap in one for another? Write out your values in a journal to come back to when you need a reminder.

Thrive School Support Image 2The exercise above is one of many clarifying exercises as part of the Thrive School curriculum.
Thrive School Dublin is soon to start on March 11th – a four month process which leads people through a process of value and vision clarification, into idea forming, through creative blocks and into action.
Applications are now open. You can find more over here. Application deadline is March 3rd.

Want to stay up to date? Sign up to my mailing list for more resources, updates and happenings. Sign up here


In hope I trust…

Shankill Castle Feb 2015-138

I am sitting here looking at a blank screen, cursor flashing. I’ve been sitting here for at least 30 minutes. I’ve written lines, and deleted them again. I’ve made two cups of tea. I’ve checked on the fire, numerous times. I’ve written some more words, and deleted them again. Ahead of me is a blank document. All that white space. It’s terrifying. It’s daunting. It’s confusing. It’s exhilarating.

You see it seems like there have been so many words over these last few weeks, some of which have been sending the world into topspin. There have been unsavoury words which have led to unsavoury action. There have been words of spite, anger, shock, uncertainly and fear. But then, in consequence, written on the streets through the feet of millions and held up high on placards there have been words of hope, solidarity, compassion, justice, inspiration, power and beauty.

Watching global events unfold it strikes me that we are facing a collective blank page. The cursor is flashing. Unfolding before us are two narratives- internally and externally: the narrative of fear and the narrative of hope. We get to write how the story continues. We are part of the unfolding. The ancients and our ancestors have been through this before, of course.

 

The evil. The good. The fear. The hope. The one that wins is the one that feeds.  Right now it can seem that hope is hungry and fear is full; but only if we choose for it to be so, and that choice, I think, requires connection.

As we plug our own lives into the grand narrative of global affairs, our own individual actions can seem, well, insignificant.  ‘But I’m only a _______’ .  A blank. That maybe so, but whatever your ‘blank’, that blank has it’s own soul, energy, skill, talent, breath, movement, texture and form. That blank has power. Then, put lots of blanks together and you get a whole new tapestry of possibility.
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
+_____________ +_____________ +_____________ +
Those blanks make units, and those units make patterns, and those patterns have weaves and those weaves are strength. Together those blanks make families, communities, neighbourhoods. friendships, even movements. The narrative of hope is a narrative of action, and connection.

I write these words to myself as a reminder. To reach out. To listen to the other. To pay attention to what hunger I am feeding. To connect.  And as I write them I am also aware that there is a simplicity to them which could be called idealism or even naivety. I’m OK with both, because ultimately it all boils down to this: we all live on the same planet, we are are all the one species, we breath the same air and need the same fundamental things. We have so much more in common than any ideology would lead us to believe. We are all one. It’s really that simple. Whether I agree with you our not, we are still one. You are my sister or brother on this planet. That air we breathe, that sun we share, that gravity that holds us, holds us all, together. That’s the natural law. Now it’s up to us to keep it so.

And so, feeding the hope is not to deny the fear, it’s just not giving into it. It’s not to deny the history of what we have been through, nor to turn away from what is happening, but instead to turn towards what the earth already knows, intrinsically. Hope then is not passive acceptance, but an active appraisal; an earthly honouring. It can be a push, a shout, a scream. It can be saying no. It can be standing up. It can be reaching out. It’s the warrior within rising up, for the narrative of hope gets written through action.

Ahead is the blank page, awaiting attention. It’s still pretty terrifying, and daunting and confusing and exhilarating, but by reminding myself what hunger to feed, it seems just a bit less so. Especially the terrifying bit.

And so to the ancients, I bow; to this mother of earth, I bow; and to you, I bow, whoever you are, wherever you are. It’s in hope that I trust.

Now, let’s keep this hope on the road.


Welcoming 2017

trailblaze-goes-to-cork-0732_7487625576_o

 

Dear Friends,

As 2016 shifts into 2017, and the old turns into the new, may I take this moment to send out some greetings and thanks. Thank you for your support, your participation and your openness. Thank you for your comments, feedback and community. I’m grateful, so grateful for it all.

Like so many of you I love this time of year for the space to retract a bit from the pace of things and tune into what is calling me onwards. 2016 was a full on year for us all. The political has touched the personal and the personal has impacted the professional. At times it has all felt a bit overwhelming. There have been moments that the overwhelm got the better of me- at times it burst my energy and shifted me away from my intention, and particularly on a political level, it rattled my hope.

Hope is such a precious thing, often fragile, and yet I think it is hope that is calling us and hope that must be protected.

Hope, I am learning more and more, is an active and alive thing. It is kindled by small acts and it is amplified when it is met with the hope in others. It’s when you meet a friend, for instance, and you share a dream or vision; a belief that things can change for the better. It is when you see the beauty in the ordinary, knowing it too is extraordinary. It’s when you meet kindness in a stranger or when you are fully and truly listened to. It’s when you deeply connect with your own spirit and creativity, and it’s when you choose to take a step of courage or faith. Each act of hope, no matter how small, matters. And to this belief I feel we must cling, steadfastly.

Over the last few days, the image of a lighthouse keeps popping with for me. Lighthouse are not afraid of their light- their very function is to shine through the darkness. They are beacons, they are steady, they are grounded. And they are most effective when they work together. A single lighthouse may guide a ship to shore, but when that shoreline is studded with lighthouses, the whole coast becomes a marker to harbour- a necklace of light.

As I sense into what 2017, and beyond, is calling, it is for each of us to stand firm and allow our light to shine. All of us. It’s calling on us too to get really clear on our intention, on what is really calling us to create or serve and to focus in on that. The time is precious, and our light is precious too. I’m hopeful that we can, especially when we convert hope into action.

nov 16 morning-7

And so my own intention is to kindle my hope with daily action towards my vision and by reaching out to others for collaboration, support and connection. My professional focus in 2017 will be on growing and developing Thrive School- developing even better content, learning programmes, products and curriculum, and on a personal level it’s on my health and fitness. In order to do that, I need to stay really clear with what I seek to create and say no to a lot of distraction. I stay clear with regular yoga practice, exercise, journalling, reading less online news, walking my dog. I keep the vision alive though conversations with other people who ‘get’ it, with a vision board (I use a private Pinterest board for this) and by continually breaking big projects and plans down into small, tangible action steps.

And you? What’s your intention? What is it that is really calling you? 

If those questions are too hard to answer right now or feel too overwhelming, please don’t worry. Instead, let the silence in. Find a quite spot. Sit still for a while. And listen. Or if sitting isn’t your thing, take a walk in nature, in a wild spot, and bring the questions with you. Let them stir you and inspire you. Do what you can to keep the questions alive in you. Don’t be afraid of them. Ask for the big dream. Ask for a vision, and let the silence and the wildness guide you. I have no doubt there you will find some clues… then follow them and see how the question has evolved within you. It’s all waiting for you – for your light, and  therefore hope, is already inside you.

Next week I’ll be sending another message with Thrive School dates for 2017, news of new one day workshops in Dublin, and other ways we can work one to one together. But for now, as we cross over from one year to the next, let’s collectively bow to the year gone by for its gifts of insights and challenges and let’s open the door to the new, knowing we can be a lighthouse to ourselves and to each other- grounded, rooted, clear, beaming. It’s time.

Onwards, with love and gratitude,

Clare.

 

obenhaus-april-2014-3024_14101423943_oaran-islands-yoga-6992_7995550412_o

Kyle Zimmer – Firstbook

Kyle Zimmer

 

The One Wild Life +10 series continues- these are follow up interviews with the amazing, diverse and passionate social entrepreneurs who I met on my travels 10 years ago and whose stories were chronicled in my book, ‘One Wild Life’

We are heading to the Washington DC next with First Book’s founder, Kyle Zimmer.

FirstBook’s premise is a simple one; that books change lives. It was this deeply rooted belief that led Kyle Zimmer to forgo a successful law career to run an organisation that has since gone on to distribute over 100 millions books to children from low income families and communities.

First Book impressed me 10 years ago not just for its mission, but the way it designed strategic funding and systems to drive their growth and sustainability. Many organisations start out with brilliant and bold intentions but don’t always have the foresight and skills to put the time and resources into developing the systems needed to scale their models. But that’s exactly what First Book has done: sticking to their original vision and using data and clever funding streams to build a robust and brilliant organisation…

Over to Kyle to tell us more and share some of her learning along the way…

Photo of Kyle Zimmer from GWU

First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise I co-founded with two friends in 1992 to tackle the lack of affordable, relevant books for children growing up at the base of the economic pyramid.  Even here, in a wealthy country like the U.S., 32 million U.S. children – 44% of U.S. kids! – are growing up in low-income families, where the cost of books keeps them out of the hands of those who could use them the most. A recent study by a prominent researcher found one book for every 830 kids in a Washington, D.C. neighborhood – a neighborhood not too far from my office. Without access to books, there is also no culture of reading — stifling learning and failing to provide opportunity for millions of children. We established First Book with the goal of developing a systemic, market-driven solution to this enormous social issue.

How has your path shifted and evolved since I interviewed you for One Wild Life? Where are you now and what are you working on? 

First Book’s model has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Nearly 20 years ago, we started the First Book National Book Bank, becoming the first national clearinghouse for publishers to donate excess inventory to classrooms and programs serving children in need.  The National Book Bank has grown into a major success story over the years, providing approximately 15 million books annually at present — free books to children in need.  While the First Book National Book Bank is extraordinary, over the last 9 years we’ve built a brand new, self-sustaining model that has become a jet engine for our efforts.

In recent years we have focused on aggregating the voice and purchasing power of formal and informal educators serving children in need.  By the end of this year, our online network will include 300,000 teachers and caregivers.  The First Book Network is growing fast – more than 7,000 members are joining every month. We are already the largest and fast growing network of educators serving children in need in North America and our goal is to reach 1 million educators and programs in the next five years.  

Photo of child with bookBy harnessing the power of our Network, we created the First Book Marketplace, an e-commerce site that provides brand new high quality books and educational resources for children in need ages 0 to 18 – all for free or at the lowest prices possible.  This is an unprecedented model that collaboratively disrupts both the publishing industry and the retail industry – to serve the children at the base of the economic pyramid for the first time.  

Instead of relying on donated inventory, the inventory available through the First Book Marketplace is driven by the very educators serving children in need, enabling First Book to purchase in bulk the exact titles and types of resources most needed to support curriculum, fuel learning and help inspire reading. The First Book Marketplace now carries more than 6,000 new books and resources.  And in response to educators’ requests, we’ve expanded the First Book Marketplace to also carry resources uniquely needed to serve children who show up to school cold, hungry and suffering from chronic stress.  We now carry winter coats, socks and underwear; nonperishable snacks, backpacks and school supplies, and essential needs items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.  All of our products are specifically designed to eliminate barriers to equal education.

We’re also using the First Book Marketplace to help make recent educational expertise and resources more actionable and accessible to educators serving children in need, providing research updates, tipsheets for educators and parents, and curated collections of books that support such issues as social and emotional learning and mental health.

There have been a lot of changes over the past 10 years.  For example, we’ve shifted away from our earlier volunteer model – which was expensive to support and was difficult to scale.  In its place we have built a volunteer platform called ‘Team First Book’ that better reflects the volunteer interests of the next generation.

In more recent years, we have also begun to scale our efforts globally with pilot initiatives through local NGO and corporate partners in more than 30 countries.

And finally, we’ve been able to use market-based levers to request new content from publishers, instead of being a reactive and captive market. In this way we have been able to begin to elevate diversity in children’s literature.  It’s been an amazing 10 years; I am sure I could not have predicted many of these developments when we spoke 10 years ago.

What are some of your highlights of the past 10 years? 

One of the highlights is the skill level we’ve built within the organization.  Don’t get me wrong:  we’ve always been hugely fortunate to have incredibly dedicated, compassionate, smart and wonderful people here at First Book. But ten years ago, there were fewer people and we had to multi-task in areas that weren’t always our strengths.  As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to hire the skill sets we need – on staff and through outside support.

We’ve also benefitted from some incredible partnerships – including corporate and foundation funders, amazing business and community leaders and social sector supporters who have believed in us and helped us grow.

Nearly 5 years ago, we celebrated our 20th anniversary by distributing our 100 millionth book – two major milestones.  We held our celebration at the same D.C. soup kitchen where I volunteered 20 years ago, and where I first learned that so many of our children are growing up without books.

Photo of two kids readingAnother highlight for me has been the launch of our Stories for All Project, the first market-driven initiative tackling the lack of diversity in children’s books. Since 2013, First Book has distributed millions of diverse, inclusive books. In fact, educators can now access a wide range of diverse titles from First Book, with books featuring different cultures, races and ethnicities, as well as different religions, family structures, sexual orientation, individual abilities, experiences and neighborhoods.  In addition, the Stories for All Project is serving as a catalyst for bringing culturally relevant books to the retail market, so that all children have access to more diverse books. We see how necessary that is every day – not just to turn non-readers into readers, but to better understand our commonalities and our differences and to build a path forward with empathy and understanding.

But the real highlights for all of us at First Book are hearing from educators and children about the difference that First Book is making:  in classrooms, in afterschool programs, in homeless shelters, in libraries and museums, and in the lives of children and families across the country every day.

What have been some of the challenges of the past 10 years? What would you have done differently? 

One of the challenges has been getting to self-sufficiency.  Through our models, we are closing in on 50% self-sufficiency.  It’s been a fist fight to get there – as we challenge ourselves to reinvent our models to be as efficient as possible and to harness the aggregated power of those serving children in need to become a market driver.

But I should note that the fact that we are nearing 50% self-sufficiency is amazing in the field of social enterprise.  We are very hopeful about getting to complete self sufficiency in the next few years, given that our network of educators has grown by 500% over recent years.  Few companies – even in the private sector — experience that type of growth trajectory – so just managing that growth in itself has also been a challenge.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago? 

I would be less worried and more bold in the steps that we take.  I think when you’re running a smaller organization that is more fragile, you can waste a lot of time and energy being too cautious about taking the next step.  I always believe in doing your homework – writing a full business plan – and then LEAP!

For example, I had us pilot our online First Book Marketplace for several years so we could test it, work the kinks out, and see how to make it work best for educators.  It was a completely new approach for us and for the world.  It necessitated that we change our strategy, how we were staffed, and how we saw ourselves. We were really testing out the idea of becoming a market builder.  Knowing what I know now, I wish I had launched the First Book Marketplace years earlier.  My advice:  stop waiting – do your homework and then — just do it.

What do you see as some of today’s global challenges and what opportunities do you see?

Photo of Kyle and a studentMulti-culturalism is in peril.  Fear is driving a lot of political actions, social agendas and military actions.  We have to know each other better than we do.  For First Book, those same challenges also present us with an enormous opportunity. We know that education is a key to furthering understanding, to creating a better life for ourselves and our families, for building more just and peaceful communities.  We also know that developing empathy in children elevates the likelihood of their success in school and in life.

In 2009, First Book Canada began operations; in 2013 we launched the First Book Global Marketplace; and we have been piloting new efforts with book distributions and in-country discussions with publishers and authors from India to South and Central America.

We know there are opportunities to continue to build partnerships in countries across the globe that can help us reach more children and educators with the very resources needed to unlock the future.  First Book is experimenting with ideas that will enable us to unify the terrific organizations working in countries around the world.  Stay tuned!!

Over the last 10 years, the field of social entrepreneurship has evolved and got better known and supported. What would you say is the next stage of growth for the field and what are some of the main questions or challenges which it faces? 

There are so many very pressing issues that need to be addressed, and we have to be nimble, and be willing to question everything; to innovate and try new approaches.  As the field of social entrepreneurship has gotten bigger, there is a tendency to slide back into old models.  It is a natural tendency – but we have to fight it.  We need to continue to develop new models and strive for self-sufficiency.

That means identifying models that have helped address another issue and think about how those models can be applied in new ways.  It also means applying modern business practices and approaches to rethink the social sector. First Book is using predictive analytics and big data to help make new strides in our work:  from understanding the resources that educators need most, to determining which educators are more likely to utilize First Book’s resources.  We want to fuel learning and educational equality as fast as we can, with approaches that help us reach as many children and teachers as possible, as quickly as we can.

Another social sector initiative that I am championing is that we have more dialogue around how we are failing. In fact, that we make it an expectation and place value on the discussion of failure. I’m working with a partner organization to host a series of moderated panel discussions on just this topic.  We want to create a new norm, where funders regularly request – and expect – to hear about failure and that we share those failures willingly because we know that what didn’t work is just as important as what did work to move the needle on what we can try next.  I believe this is critical if we want to further the field.

Why do you continue to do what you do? And how do you sustain yourself in the process? 

I continue to do this work because I know this is a solvable problem.  Educated people make sure their children are educated.  That is the simple and powerful truth.  So when you educate a generation, they will make sure their kids are educated as well.  This is especially true when we invest in educating women.  And it is true in countries all over the world. This means that if we put our minds to it – we could solve this problem in one generation.

While we have a long way to go to reach every child and to solve the issue, as we approach our 25th anniversary, I’m more hopeful than I’ve ever been.  We’ve had a lot of success.  We’ve piloted a lot of things that have worked.  Now we need to amplify and build up our systems – and be part of a grand new era – where teachers have everything they need to fuel equal education for all children.

What advice would you share with others setting out on their own entrepreneurial path? 

My advice would be this:

  • You don’t need to know everything. 
  • Instead, make a list of the 10 smartest people you can think of.  You don’t have to know them.  Then call them; ask them questions.  Tell them about your challenges and ask if they’ll help you think of solutions.  My experience is that 9 out of 10 people are happy to help and flattered that you asked them.  
  • Celebrate your milestones!  And then set the next ones even higher.
  • Do not fear failure. Remember:  You can fail without ever succeeding – but you cannot succeed without ever failing. 
  • Understand this:  the social sector needs experimentation and people who are willing to try.  Look at the failure rate of new businesses.  If we’re not doubling that rate to address social issues, then shame on us. 

Anything else you’d like to add? 

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this wild ride of the last 10 years.  As our world becomes smaller and more intertwined, as poverty, climate change and other issues reach critical stages, the role of social entrepreneurs has never been more important.  We are the mediators, facilitators, and change agents, unbeholden to political parties, military regimes or institutional priorities.  It is our collective actions, our self-sustaining models and our ability to galvanize public willpower that help achieve the social change needed to provide opportunities for a more peaceful and prosperous world. 

 

Thank you so much Kyle of long-term dedication and tenacity to keep going. It is so inspiring to read of your growth and continued commitment to the transformative power of education.

..

Want to stay in touch? Hope on over here to sign up for news, happening and resources.

………………….


To keep the flame alive…

shankill-castle--74_15135915357_o

There she was, this young child, covered in a layer of dust, blood in her hair and a blank face. All around her, screams and chaos and the harrowing chills and howls of a tragic war. This little child, sitting on a trolly, whose face was broadcast on the news. And here I am, sitting in a beautiful home, warm, safe, well fed, crying. I actually reached on to the screen and tried to wipe the dust away, tried to hold her hand, tried to offer my comfort. I wanted to put my arms around her, hold her, protect her. But there are so many things in the way- the screen, the miles, the war, the politics, the bitter twisted broken policies of regimes, and the annals of an angry history. She seems so far away and yet her pain has reached into my heart and tears it apart. I can’t get her traumatised face out of my mind.

There is her, of course, and then there are all the others, the thousands of others. There are the ones in the war zone, the ones on the boats, the ones waiting in camps, the ones who have gone missing, the ones who are seeking refuge, the ones who have not made it. Was she in fact the same little one I saw in Gaza? Or somewhere in Afghanistan? Or on another night, on another channel? It’s unbearable. I force myself not to look way as my tears risk blurring out the view. I wipe my tears.

It doesn’t seem enough, to sit and cry. It doesn’t seem enough to offer my care, or broken heart, or what I deem humanity. It seems desperate sitting here, so far away, so privileged. And yet, here I am. But this I am sure of too: as there are many like her, there are also many like me. Maybe it’s you, sitting at home, feeling desperate with your heart breaking open. It’s tragic, I know.

belgrade-7866_5925323513_o

So what do we do?

Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish there was a step by step guide, but there isn’t. We can give money, yes- where it goes, and how effective, and how it gets mixed up in the politics of aid is complex. But we can give, knowing it’s not going to perfect.  And we can write letters and show up at protests and voice our concern. Yes, we can do that, knowing that too is not perfect, but it is something. Yes, these are important.

And then there something broader which I think we can offer, something critical, and it’s right at the core of us, deep within us, something which is vital and beating. It’s our hearts, no matter how broken. And aren’t our hearts the birthplace of our humanity? And isn’t our world so desperate for our humanity- so desperate right now. Yes, we can individually keep our hearts open and our humanity alive- can’t we?

As I am sitting writing this, I almost let the fire go out, literally. There were just a few remaining embers in the grate. And so, quick action was required- a balled up sheet of newspaper to catch the flame quickly, then another, a fire lighter and then the solid wood- the stuff that will last longer, and give out more heat. Now the fire is burning bright again and the room is warming. It gets me thinking about the nature of how things catch. In an emergency situation, sometimes short term, quick action is essential. Bring on the fire lighters. Get the thing going again, use what you have, add some spark and air. Then, build and tend, build and tend, stay focused, build and tend.

What I saw tonight on the news is emergency. Something urgent and swift is required. That action needs quick fuel, support and air. Then there is the build and tend- the long haul fire tending work.

Friends, as so many of us can sense and not deny, something is not boding well out there. 2016 was a pretty harrowing year; a year where fear has festered and the polarising of us and them has accelerated. As image after image of other little ones on trollies appear on our screens, and yet more images of the desperate and destitute arrive on our shores, it can be all to easy to block not only our borders but also our hearts. Keep the flame alive, then build and tend. I wonder, can we each allow our hearts to be harbours too- to the other- the other within us, and the other outside of us? Can we build a place for the ‘other’ and tend to it as it it was our own?

homestay-supafast-dinner-19-july-0225_7623823836_o

I keep thinking too of this word ‘humanity’. HUMAN-ity. That little girl on the trolly? Well, she is you, and me too. The perpetrator and the victim? They are you and me. The one who pulls the trigger and the one who survives- all part of our human race. But is it our humanity which sets us apart from our humanness, and is our humanity our ability to rise above our differences and see each other as equal, as another being on this finite planet, each with our own struggle, story, pain and promise.

That pain on the news today, I’ve seen the pain before. Or at least the remnants of the pain. I’ve sat with survivors of rape and torture and listened their stories. My camera has captured the faces of those stories from Bosnia to Cambodia, and caught glimpses of the lives and scars of hundreds of people in poverty- victims of a human plight. And yet when we sit down and face each other, eye to eye, heart to heart, story to story, our humanity faces each other too. We breathe, we touch, we love, we fear, we cry, we laugh, we are being human in all its frailties and beauty. We share this common bond call human, and in recognising that bond we have the beginnings of a shared humanity.

And yes, it’s unbearable. And yes, it’s the most beautiful thing. Recognising humanity is not an intellectual endeavour. Its nativity is also its grace. You are you and I am I, but together we are on this one little planet that we have to find a way to share, and tend.

So, what to do? Build and tend, I tell myself, build and tend. And what does that look like? Well, in simple terms, can it start when I meet a stranger on the street and see myself in them? When I met an ‘other’, can I also meet my friend? And even deeper still, when I meet the stranger within me- those parts of myself I’d rather deny or hide, can I embrace my own imperfections rather than fear them, and move on, together. It’s the fear we need to be careful of, you see, not the other.

The little girl’s dusty face is still on my mind. I desperately want to reach out, wipe the dust from her face, and hold her close. I wish I could take her into my arms, care for her, give her a home as long as she needs one. But right now, from where I sit, all I can do is give her my heart, however broken it is. It’s not enough, I know, but she has broken it open further, bringing me closer my tender humanity which is searching for the work to build and tend, build and tend, and keep the flame alive. This heart knows more when ever that there is a fire to keep, alive.

homestay-supafast-dinner-19-july-0362_7623805368_o

Nick Moon

nick moon 1

 

It’s time to hop back across to Africa, this time to Kenya for the next in the One Wild Life +10 interview series. Next up is Nick Moon.

I first met Nick in Nairobi in 2006 when I interviewed him for the original book. He was one of the first interviews of my trip and I remember clearly his warmth, generosity and deep interest and expertise in development. We talked for hours. I liked his irreverence and humour too, underpinned by a willingness to tear up the imaginary rulebook combined with his approach to giving things a go and experimenting with new methods. This attitude has continued over the years.

Back in 2006, Nick, alongside his co-founder Martin Fisher was running kickstart.org, a social entreprise which was developing low cost farming equipment or ‘appropriate technologies’ to kickstart rural development. They had developed an oil press, a building block press and a manual water irrigation pump- marketed as ‘The Money Maker’! That organisation is still running, now focused solely on water pumps and has gone on to support 200,000 families to create successful farming businesses and help over a million people out of poverty. (More impressive stats and information can be found on their website here)

But five years ago, Nick felt it was time to move on, support others, share his expertise and expand the range of his projects. He became grandfather too, and a new father! Never one rest on laurels, I’ll let Nick tell you more …

2016 Skoll World Forum

How has your path shifted and evolved since I interviewed you for One Wild Life? Where are you now and what are you working on? 

Has it been 10 years? Blimey. Some 5 years ago I thought that it was time to do something new. I felt that Kickstart was well and truly on its way and didn’t really need me any more, and in any case  I was getting stale. Starting something from scratch and building it up is one thing; managing a large established organization is something else. So I reckoned it was time to make a move. KickStart was and is in very good hands under co-founder Martin Fisher.

In 2011 my eldest daughter Marion Atieno Moon, who had graduated with a business degree in 2006 and had been working for big corporates, had just decided to start a brand-new for-profit social enterprise, Wanda Organic, here in Kenya. Wanda finds and brings the latest breakthrough soil health and fertility solutions to smallholder farmers. We agreed that my experience with KickStart would be very helpful in developing this new organization, so that’s what triggered a new chapter.

I am now the executive chairman of Wanda, and heavily invested financially (I sold the house) and emotionally in its growth. I am currently busy helping her set up the local production of bio-organic fertilizers in Kenya and innovating distribution and marketing strategies to develop awareness and build and serve demand.

Working with my own daughter has its challenges of course, and she is the founder, the boss, so I have to be sensitive to that. Accordingly I don’t work full time at Wanda and keep busy in other ways.

I had accepted an invitation in 2010 to mentor a young visionary Kenyan, Eddy Gicheru Oketch, as he built up an organization he had started in 2008 – in the wake of the horrifying period of “Post Election Violence” in Kenya – which sought to help Kenyan youth understand and overcome the twin pressures of poverty and the cynical manipulations of self-serving politicians who were pitting them against each other by inciting violence across tribal/ethnic lines. My advice to Eddy was that it is near impossible to love thy neighbour if you are hungry and jobless, so there can be no lasting peace and reconciliation without a certain measure of prosperity. In 2012 he asked me to help in developing and restructuring his organization to assist youth to identify economic opportunities and set up group enterprises which create employment and social value. I did what I could. The organization is now known as Ongoza (means ‘to lead’ in Swahili) and doing pretty well. We recruited a great CEO and built the team, developed the program, and are expanding outreach. I am the Chairman of its Board.

I have always had an interest in social and cultural, as well as economic, development and so am also busy – again at Board level – with The Theatre Company of Kenya, which is all about promoting skills and professionalism in the Performing Arts. We train actors – loadsa raw creative talent here – and nurture the creation and production of local performance. One notable high point for us was when our troop performed a Swahili adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” (Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa) at the Globe Theatre in London.

greenhouse marion wanda 036
Nick’s daughter, Marion

What are some of your highlights of the past 10 years? 

See above – there is never a dull moment!

I suppose the big thing was taking the step out and away from KickStart  five years ago – although once a founder always a founder, and I remain on the Board there too, and ready to expound our Theory of Change to anyone who will listen! This has meant attendance as a delegate or speaker or moderator at different high level conferences addressing economic or agricultural development in Africa – World Economic Forum meetings, Skoll World Forums, Global Entrepreneurship Summits, African Green Revolution conferences. Trips to USA, UK, France, Switzerland, China, India, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Rwanda, Uganda and other places. These have been interesting and useful (sometimes) in terms of high level policy formulation, but can also be described in some ways as “low lights” given that such a lot of time and money is spent on talking and intellectualizing, propounding and debating, passing lofty resolutions and the like. But a lot of this waffle does not get turned into practical action, or at least not as quickly or effectively as it should or could. Even so it has been a great privilege and pleasure to meet all manner of truly remarkable people at these events. One thing I have realized here is that a lot of truly good work is done by people who do not seek to aggrandize themselves, who steer clear of the limelight and just get on with stuff.

Talking of modest people getting on with stuff and not making a fuss, another highlight for me at a direct personal level has been to watch the development and growth of the 30 or so “OVC” (orphaned and vulnerable children) – almost all girls –  whom my wife supports and raises at her children’s home in Kakamega County, Western Kenya. These are girls who were once victims, and/or at serious risk, of sexual abuse, violence and other forms of exploitation. One (actually a boy – well, a young man now) will graduate in clinical medicine in December. Another has a degree in actuarial science. Another is studying economics and statistics at the University of Nairobi. It is wonderful to see them grow up and go out there into the big bad world, confident and capable, after starting off at such severe disadvanatage.  www.vumilia.org

What have been some of the challenges of the past 10 years?

Challenges? One is that there are so many things to do and so it can be tricky to decide what to focus on. Another big challenge in this part of the world is the high levels of corruption in government, although maybe this is just a perception based on the blatant almost unashamed nature of corruption, cronyism, nepotism, greed and so on here; I have a feeling that you will come across this everywhere, only in other parts of the world it is better disguised. Related to this, one also comes across negative people, negative attitudes rather too often – people who seem intent on why an idea or plan cannot work, rather than how it can be made to work. Overcoming or bypassing negativity takes time and energy which might otherwise be used more productively

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago? 

Don’t get yer knickers in such a twist. 

Kenzo Nov 16 (1)

(with Kenzo Shane)

What do you see as some of today’s global challenges and what opportunities do you see?

The grim and grumbly things include:

  • Climate Change denial and how the Fossil Fools are so resistant to renewables. Fracking about, horizontal drilling, tar sands and shale gas and so on, whereas there are proven preferable energy alternatives which can now be implemented at similar financial/economic cost and very much lower environmental and social costs. That’s a big one.
  • The pharisaical sanctimonious self-regard of the banking industry.
  • Industrial-chemical agriculture’s dominance in food supply and distribution. Bad for biodiversity and good food.
  • Global corporate capitalism’s unwillingness to really recognize or accept any other value beyond shareholder value, (mealy-mouthed lip service not enough)
  • The growing gap between rich and poor – among nations and people within nations
  • Religious extremism and everything that follows on from it
  • Mendacious rabble-rousing media
  • Governments serving the interests of big industries not people
  • A growing shortage of empathy and compassion among the comfortable and prosperous

Reasons not to give up in the face of all this?.

  • Science and technology continually advancing, with new solutions/innovations in energy, health, agriculture, industry and even finance, coming along thicker and faster than ever before
  • The growing understanding, especially among young people, that we can change things for  the better if we really want to, and work at it.
  • The nascent movement toward a post-capitalist era where values go beyond the simply material or monetary to include social and environmental values
  • Immigration and transmigration of people generally – stirs things up in a good way, prevents atrophy and stagnation
  • Communications technologies and social media enabling people to be informed and get organized better, faster.
  • Plenty of courageous changemakers and status-quo challengers emerging in all spheres of life and everywhere
  • Empathy and compassion alive and well and growing among so-called ordinary people
  • Human ingenuity, adaptability, resilience, creativity, innovativeness, invention alive and well despite threats and opposition from the dinosaurs.

Over the last 10 year the field of social entrepreneurship has evolved and got better known and supported. What would you say is the next stage of growth for the field and what are some of the main questions or challenges which it faces? 

As implied above Social Enterprise seeks to upset equilibria, complacency, stases. It has evolved over the last 20-30 years for sure and done a great job in developing new (or rediscovered?) perceptions of value, and an approach that demonstrates how social and environmental benefits can be offered by a commercial entity for whom monetary profit and economic gain are not ends in themselves, but rather the means by which the other values can be sustainably delivered.

Even so, while a growing number of people and markets are learning and adjusting to these new paradigms, no cigar yet. There is need and room for a lot more social enterprise. I would hope that the theory of a ‘million little pieces’ will prevail, the realization that loads and loads of relatively small, local community-facing, social enterprises can have an aggregate impact for the better. And move away from the obsession with growing monolithic, monopolistic enterprises of any kind. Or we will fall into the ‘Too Big To Fail’ mindset/trap again where sheer size is taken as an indicator of worth. Boo to that.

Why do you continue to do what you do? And how do you sustain yourself in the process? 

What else is there to do? And besides, its fun. How do I sustain myself? Largely by avoiding the question, and expecting that things will turn out OK. Avoid gloom and pessimism. Glass is ¾ empty? No mate, its ¼ full.

What advice would you share with others setting out on their own entrepreneurial path? 

Just get on and do it. Don’t worry about the risks and costs. “Nothing ventured  ..” and all that. Just as long as your prime motivation is not money, nor fame. They might come, or not.  But if you don’t enjoy it any more, stop it, and do something else.  And don’t get too full of yourself.

 

Thank you so much Nick. So brilliant to hear your updates. Thank you for your continued work and optimism. It spreads.  

Clare x 

……

STAY IN TOUCH. 

Sign up here for extra resources, news and happenings…

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..


Sr Stan Kennedy

St Stan Insta 1

 

Ten years ago I set off on a journey across the globe to interview a whole range of social entrepreneurs about their life stories. I wanted to capture their learning, insights, wisdom and stories. Ten years on I’m back on the trail, reconnecting with the interviewees and asking a new batch of questions, wondering where are they now, and what insights or additions would they offer for us today.

While that journey took me all across the globe, it was important to me to begin in Ireland, learning more about social change in my home country and the people who are driving that change. One of those is Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy. Know affectionately as Sr Stan, she is a serial social entrepreneur having founded four organisations: Focus Point (now Focus Ireland), Young Social Innovators, The Sanctuary, and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Sr Stan is a tireless champion of the rights of all, particularly the marginal and the vulnerable all across the globe. She is also the author of many books, most recently on the topics of  spirituality, meditation and hope.

What a legend, and what an honour to profile her here once again. Now over to Sr Stan…

30.2.04 Dublin, Ireland. Sr STANISLAUS KENNEDY. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

How has your path shifted and evolved since I interviewed you for One Wild Life? Where are you now and what are you working on? 

When I wrote 10 years ago I was very active in executive responsibilities and in the delivery of services. Within the past year I have moved on from executive responsibilities, but I work in the area of service and human and spiritual relationships.  If you are alive I believe you’re better off working.

I have moved away from all executive positions in the four organisations which I founded; Focus Ireland, The Immigrant council of Ireland, Young Social Innovators and the Sanctuary while I am still on the boards and some committees and sub committees and I assist with work on the ground with customers. But I also have moved into mentoring and tutoring people and helping to develop courses and programmes and inductions to support inspire and empower people, especially younger people and particularly people on the front line like social workers, care workers, youth workers and teachers. Basically is passing on what I have learnt myself.

What are some of your highlights of the past 10 years? 

Every day has a highlight, it is a questions of being able to see it. During those 10 years there have been numerous highlights particularly highlights in seeing people finding peace, happiness and contentment in their life and seeing people being given hope, for example when I see homeless people offered a home.

In the past 10 years I have travelled.  I have been to India where I spent some time in an ashram in a very remote rural part of the south eastern province of Tamil Nadu. I went there to spend some time in meditation, learn more about mediation and deepen my own meditative practices. I have been to Zambia where I introduced the Young Social Innovators there. Young Social Innovators is training young people to be active citizens.  I also went on a lecture tour in Australia where I got the opportunity to meet people and see how services are developed there. While there I got the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef and I spent some time at Lady Elliot Island which is the most southern coral cay of the Great Barrier Reef and it was just extraordinary seeing the marine life there, something that I would not have even imagined before.

What have been some of the challenges of the past 10 years? What would you have done differently? 

The greatest challenge in the last 10 years was the economic crash and the great suffering it caused for so many people, particularly poor people and it was very challenging to try and give people a sense of hope, a sense of dignity in the midst of appalling circumstances.

Homelessness is now at a national crisis point in Ireland and vulnerable people are not being protected.  This is I believe  the responsibility of the whole society, the private, the public, the voluntary and community sector.  It is something we have every reason to be ashamed of, with families being confined to rooms in hotels because there was no hostels or houses for them.  That has been a challenge over the past ten years and it continues to be a challenge. It should never have reached this crisis stage, it reached this crisis stage because successive governments stopped providing social housing.  That has to change.

I would like to see our society prioritizing those who suffer on the margins. Lip service about protecting the vulnerable is simply not good enough.

Aug 2015-105

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago? 

I would spend more time in my own inner sanctuary, that still place within. I would spend more time in the Sanctuary for example, it has the atmosphere, the ambience and the equipment to help us to listen to the small still voice within which is often little more than a whisper.

I would spend more time retrieving my connection with nature, the wonder, the awe, the mystery and the beauty of nature.  I would spend more time envisioning a spirituality that would be inclusive of age, gender, culture and beliefs.

What do you see as some of today’s global challenges and what opportunities do you see?

The great global challenges today is the plight of refugees and migrants. We have a huge responsibility in the developed part of the world to take things seriously and to take more responsibility for this global humanitarian crisis. If we are not part of the solution to these then we are part of the problem.   We have already caused the problem, we have caused much of what is happening across the globe to migrants, to displaced people. We can now put somethings right.

Ireland has been largely silent on this humanitarian crisis. In Ireland we have no hard right wing or anti migrant party but there is resistance to migrants.  Given our history, only a robust pro migrant argument is responsible politically. We need leadership, we need greater collaboration, we need communication and shared responsibility from all stakeholders in Irish society. We need leadership which needs to be shown by the Department of the Taoiseach, drawing together the private and public and voluntary and community sector, but it needs to be lead by the Taoiseach. The government needs to take personal ownership and give symbolic leadership by travelling to the camps and ensuring it is informed and in a position to create public understanding and support.

We can do it in Ireland, we have a powerful sense of community, it is a natural part of who we are. It is stimulated by various groups in the voluntary and community sector including churches, sporting organisations etc.  We need to harness all that.

Here in Ireland we could develop a model response to this crisis.  We are a tiny island between the east and the west and the north and the south.  We are not a threat to anyone, but we can provide a welcoming place where the world can meet. Hospitality has been always our hallmark. Now we need to be more hospitable than ever. We have a lot to share with the whole world, as a culture we have a lot to give. We should cherish it and offer it. Generosity is the source of all richness. We should work to banish greed and offer what we have and what we are to those hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced.

Over the last 10 year the field of social entrepreneurship has evolved and got better known and supported. What would you say is the next stage of growth for the field and what are some of the main questions or challenges which it faces? 

I think social entrepreneurship in the future needs a very clear vision and a very clear value system and realise that social entrepreneurship is primarily about human beings relating to each other. It is not just about fixing things and doing things, if the relationship is not central to the work it is not humanizing, it is not helping people to grow humanly and spiritually and it can actually dehumanize and damage people.

lay of the land 2016-17

Why do you continue to do what you do? And how do you sustain yourself in the process? 

I do so because of an abiding consciousness of the plight of the vulnerable and the dispossessed.  Because I would like to see Ireland as a place that values all its citizens equally. A society that would show compassion towards the weak and lonely, that could distill the terrible greed of recent decades.  I would like to see a society which protects the vulnerable in a real way by delivering the 5 basic human rights, the right to adequate food, education, healthcare, housing and jobs. I would like to see a society where every single person is protected, a society where its laws and structures will automatically provide for peoples basic needs and basic rights.

I sustain myself by my belief and reliance on God, the God of my life. I sustain myself that I believe that we must face life with as much generosity and love that we can muster and it will return to us. I say that because I believe in the God of love. A God who loves me unconditionally, and his message to us is to grow in love, to open our hearts, to keep our hearts open. When the heart is open we receive and give love all the time but our heart can be closed because of our life experience so we have to work on it. Love generates love, it is not enough just to love, we must become love.

I am inspired by that belief. I am also inspired by the people who get off the ditch and do something about issues, whoever they are. I would like to see people getting more radical as they age, we have less and less to lose as we stand up for human rights and human dignity.

Aug 2015-45

What advice would you share with others setting out on their own entrepreneurial path? 

I would say, listen, listen deeply, listen to all the people on the margins they are the people who understand society and how it does and doesn’t work, and listen to yourself, be guided by your own intuition, but be guided also by good factual knowledge. Be guided by evidence.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

I would like to see as people get older that they will use their wisdom to help those who are younger. I would like to see a public role for older men and women, we have a lot to offer, we have seen several recessions, we vote and politicians are a bit afraid of us. We should encourage them to involve us more and give us a way of speaking out.

Life is about progressing humanly and spiritually, that is the work of a lifetime. To grow spiritually and humanly is to grow in love. Spirituality is the message of love, it is opening our heart.  As older people we can stop caring about what people think about us, we can stop thinking about success. It is an opportunity for expansive thinking. Being older is an opportunity to help people to understand the meaning of active citizenship. It is an opportunity for people to help younger people to have a more robust approach to political and civic life. Dreaming dreams of a better future should not be the prerogative of the young.

….

Thank you so much Sr Stan for your continued work, inspiration and example to others.

Find out more about St Stan on her website over here.

STAY IN TOUCH

Want to stay up to date with future interviews? Be sure to sign up to my newsletter here. Thank you!


One Wild Life + 10: Taddy Blecher

OWL +10 template 2

 

Ten years ago I set out on a journey across the globe to interview social entrepreneurs about their life stories. I travelled for 11 months, across 17 countries, interviewing nearly 200 people. I took hundreds of photos, travelled thousands of miles, laughed, cried and learned so much about the world, myself, and what it takes follow through on a dream- mine and theirs.

That journey became ‘One Wild Life’, a book published by The Collins Press in 2009, which in turn, has travelled the globe. The stories of these change makers have reached school children, policy makers, presidents, educators and fellow entrepreneurs, among others, as the book made it’s way to people who themselves have a deep longing to make a difference. I still get emails from readers across the world who have been moved or touched by the stories in the book. This has to be one of the best feelings in the world!

So ten years on, I am curious to revisit these stories– Where are these people now? What lessons have they learned? What has changed? And what advice or insights can they offer to us as we collectively embark on a new phase of history, challenge and opportunity.

And so, I am in the process of tracking down as many of the interviewees as possible. This time it’s a little different though. I’ve sent them some questions, to which they are offering replies. Over the coming months I’ll be sharing the interviews weekly and at the end will be looking for patterns, themes and trends.

Ten years seems like nothing and forever all in one. So much has happened, so much change, so much learning, and yet the lessons from that journey are still living in me, unfolding each day at a time. The past is never really past, just a work in progress.

And so I hope you’ll join me in this current iteration of the investigation! (#onewildlife10)

……

Dr. Taddy Blecher

Maharishi Institute, South Africa

 

Dr Taddy Blecher PhotoFirst up in the interview series is Dr. Taddy Blecher in South Africa.

It seems fitting that Taddy is first in this series, as it was reading about his work that was one of the sparks for the original journey. Back then Taddy was the CEO of CIDA City Campus, which was pioneering a new model of affordable, accessible third level business education in South Africa. Since then he has gone on to be one of the leading global voice on education reform.

Soon after meeting Taddy he went on to launch a new educational institution, the Maharishi Institute, which has the aim of educating 100,000 leaders for the future of South Africa. Significantly the institute considers personal develop and work experience as central to its educational tenets. It’s “Pay it Forward” philosophy helps to ensure that thousands of young people who would ordinarily not have access to third level opportunities are now getting a chance through an ingenious peer to peer support model, which in turn is pioneer new ways in which third level education is funded and sustained.

Taddy is also co-founder of the Branson School of Entrepreneurship and is the recipient of numerous awards and honours including the Skoll Entrepreneur Award and the Global Leader of Tomorrow Award from the World Economic Forum.

Reading Taddy’s update is a huge reminder to me in the power of a big vision and big numbers, and how that vision is accelerated when embodied and conscious-raising practices such as meditation are integrated into the root of education. It was a pleasure meeting Taddy in Johannesburg back in 2006, and it is an equal pleasure to hear of his amazing progress and commitment ten years on…

And so, without further ado and with deep appreciate for his work and that of his team, over to Taddy.

How has your path shifted and evolved since I interviewed you for One Wild Life? Where are you now and what are you working on?

It is the same path but more evolved.

Ten years ago, I was in the planning stages for the Maharishi Institute (MI) – in June 2017, MI will be 10 years old and what a journey of learning and growth it has been. MI was donated a huge building in downtown Joburg, which we have been renovating over the years, and it currently is home to over 650 young people who are completing their studies via distance education with the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, USA.

As CEO, I have moved from day-to-day operational management, to working on the long-term sustainability of the institute, with the goal of making it the first self-sustaining educational institution in the world.

Since we first started in year 2000, across all our programmes we have started, we have assisted 15,250 unemployed youth to access education and jobs. They earn close to R1 billion combined salaries per annum and we estimate they will earn R23 billion conservatively over their working careers.

Our target is to educate and train 100,000 leaders for the future of Africa, who will ultimately earn one trillion Rand over their working careers. Funds that will transform the lives of poor communities and bring them into the middle class.

20160613-IMG_2955

 

What are some of your highlights of the past 10 years?

We have held three graduation ceremonies and shortly the fourth for the Maharishi Institute, and each one is an amazingly happy celebration of achievement, success despite the odds and incredibly proud moments when parents embrace the first graduate in their family. This makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Over the past 10 years we have partnered with some incredible companies and people, and the relationships that have developed have been phenomenal. So many people truly believe in what we are doing and are willing to partner with us on the journey that it makes the trip very exciting.

A recent highlight is we have passed the ‘tipping point’ threshold from a quantum physics point of view to make Johannesburg ‘Invincible’. This is a theoretical basis which requires a group of advanced TM (transcendental meditation) practitioners. So for the population of 4.5 million people in Johannesburg, we have seen it going from the ‘murder capital’ of the world 10-years ago, to not in the top ‘50 murder cities’ in the world.

Also in development:

  • We have an MOU with the Department of Basic Education to provide technical support to the initiative of introducing a project-based entrepreneurship curriculum into all schools in the country.
  • The target over the next 15-years is to ultimately reach 12 million children per annum across 27,000 different schools. This has emerged from work I was asked to under the auspices of the former Deputy President to Chair a National Government Task Team in the Human Resources Development Council (HRDC) on Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship.
20160613-IMG_2961

What have been some of the challenges of the past 10 years? What would you have done differently?

Overall its been a total joy! Every challenge has turned out to be a blessing!

There is ALWAYS a solution.

Funding is always a challenge and is becoming less of a day to day concern as we approach and manage to achieve sustainability. Aiming towards becoming self-sustainable is incredibly hard-work but I know that it will be worth it when we achieve it.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

Just keep going! You are so on the right track! ☺

Graduation - Class of 2015

What do you see as some of today’s global challenges and what opportunities do you see?

With the increase in digital access, there are a lot of opportunities opening to impact people. At the same time, digital access can lose the high-touch human approach, which is one of the factors that makes MI work better than a public university.

We need a more enlightened approach to education that facilitates human Evolution at a great speed, alongside the technological revolution taking place.

Over the last 10 year the field of social entrepreneurship has evolved and got better known and supported. What would you say is the next stage of growth for the field and what are some of the main questions or challenges which it faces?

It is true, and its largely thanks to the work of the Skoll Foundation and other great organisations like Ashoka, Echoing Green, Aspen and others also playing a great role.

The next phase is for Social Entrepreneurs to support each other more, and I am a co-founder and on the global board of an initiative called Tendrel  a global organisation for Social Entrepreneurs to support each other using YPO Forum methodology. Its one year old and we are in 9 cities in the world already with over 100 members. It will grow to thousands in over 50-cities.

Also, the next phase is system change on two levels: 1) working with and transforming government policy and implementation practice; 2) Creating a tipping point in cities, states, countries, continents and globally in collective consciousness

Some research I’m interested in is how social entrepreneurs can actually be the best partners and supporters of each others’ work. SE’s can also work together enrolling key eco-system players to bring greater levels of systems change.

Another trend is the big push towards ‘merged models’ which are more financially sustainable.

Maharishi Institute building

Why do you continue to do what you do? And how do you sustain yourself in the process?

As an organisation we have a vision to create 100,000 future leaders for Southern Africa, so while we have reached more than 15,000 to date, we have a long way to go. Knowing that the future of these young people and their families are changed forever through employment, studies, and personal mastery, is a very strong motivating factor.

What advice would you share with others setting out on their own entrepreneurial path?

When you know what you really want to do with your life, then ‘jump off a cliff’. You have to just do it. Anything less is not worthy of who you are and what you were born to do.

20160613-IMG_2861

Anything else you’d like to add?

A bit more info about Maharishi Institute- to give you a better understanding

We offer University access opportunities to unemployed young people who either couldn’t afford university, or 70% of whom don’t have the school-leaving results to be allowed into University
We provide: education, books and study materials, a daily meal, work experience, counselling, job placement on graduation
The Institute offers Consciousness-Based Education, a loving, holistic student-centred approach to learning that starts with developing the inner Consciousness of every student twice daily with Transcendental Meditation and the advanced TM Sidhis programme. Our cost of this Education package is one-quarter currently of public institutions
“Learn and Earn” ensures that students work while studying to earn a stipend, and pay ‘it forward’ on their fees account; it also ensures that on graduation students have work experience making them highly marketable
“Pay it forward” is an agreement between all students and MII whereby all students commit to funding another student once they have started working to ensure that someone else (the student can nominate a family member or anyone else) is able to have the same opportunity they did.  In this way the funds are not lost and always keep re-cycling, so if you sponsor one student, in time that becomes two, then three, and so on.
We are working to become the first self-funding University programmes in the world for historically disadvantaged youth, where the institution can sustain itself without any funding from government or from the students’ tuition fees which is the traditional two income sources for a University

MI choir
BEE

** All photos courtesy of The Maharishi Institute. Photographer credit unknown.

Thank you so much Taddy- it is so brilliant to learn more about you work, impact, ideas and vision.
And yes, there is always a solution, and yes to more enlightened approaches to education, as that feeds into all growth, change and development. Onwards.

Clare xx

STAY IN TOUCH

Want to stay in touch? Sign up over here for access to tools, practices and resources for leading your own one wild life with regular updates, more interviews and news of exciting happenings!

 

 

Tune in next week for another interview in the One Wild Life + 10 series.