The underlying theme at the recently held Nexus Youth Summit was clearly “to act on your moment of inspiration.” At this action-packed 3 day event, leaders from different parts of the world spoke about how they were inspired to change lives and more importantly, how they went about doing so. While the ideas they spoke about were themselves powerful, what stuck with me more was the moment of inspiration that lead them to it.
The summit opened with Leon Logothetis, author of The Kindness Diaries. Leon gave up his cushy job as a broker in London journey because it was uninspiring and he wanted to do something about it. Letting go of everything, he traveled all across the U.S., Europe, and Asia with no money, food, gas or lodging – all of these things he had to receive from the kindness of strangers or go without (and there were plenty of times Leon found himself sleeping in the sidecar of his bright yellow vintage motorcycle). His was on a mission to find purpose; he wanted to feel inspired and feel like he was a part of something, which is why he put his trust in the goodness of strangers from all over the world. His journey renewed his faith in the bonds that connect people worldwide. And as clichéd as it may sound, he did find more to life than just monetary success.
In turn, Leon gave back in a big, big way – to strangers who showed him kindness. Little did they know that it would result in a life-changing gift in return! Be it the homeless man from Pittsburgh that shared his blankets and food with Leon, or the Doctor who would give free eye surgeries to a poor rural community in Vietnam; Leon found a way to give back to those who truly helped him and showed him kindness and generosity.
Similar to Leon, is the inspirational journey of Ken and Forrest. In March 2001, Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) founder, Ken Frantz, saw a photo in National Geographic Magazine that moved him to action and spurred the idea for B2P. The image showed men dangling precariously, using ropes to pull each other across a wide, high and broken bridge span over a portion of the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. Ken soon discovered that his brother, Forrest Frantz, had seen the photo and had the same thought: “what I want to do is repair that bridge.”
Within three months Ken, who owns a construction company, donated time, money and materials, and enlisted eager family members, friends and his Rotary Club to support the inaugural B2P project. B2P’s first bridge project, Sebara Dildi, repaired the bridge crossing along the Blue Nile in Ethiopia – setting the seeds for a vision that continues to inspire a new generation of bridge builders today – “Build to: educate, innovate and inspire.” It’s been 10 years and the organization has repaired 140 bridges to prosperity, till date.
Closer home, a trip to the US in his 20s motivated founder Venkat Krishnan N to return to India and set the seeds for GiveIndia, an organization dedicated to promoting and enabling a culture of ‘giving’ in the country. One of the things Venkat realized in the US was that people had a sense of ownership for their country. People cared. He had attended a town hall meeting in Burlington, Vermont. The meeting had been called to discuss the closure of one of three high schools in the area. He was taken aback by the response of affluent parents at the meeting, who voted for closure of the school nearest to their homes because they had cars and could afford to send their kids to the further located schools.
On returning to India, Venkat did a lot of research. At one level he found the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and now Bill Gates who’ve given away their wealth. But what about the contribution of ordinary citizen towards the betterment of society? He found out that in the US ‘giving’- in all forms – formed 1.8% of GDP or $180 billion dollars in ’99-00. The corresponding number in India was less than 0.1% or 0.2% of GDP. And the startling fact – the poorest people give the most, as a percentage of income. This held true not only in the US, but all over the world.
The time was ripe then. A growing number of Indians were beginning to do well for themselves. They were going to have everything that they could possibly want very early in life. Could we not then start building a culture that helps give back? Thus was born ‘GiveIndia’, an organization dedicated to promoting and enabling a culture of ‘giving’.
Another fine example from home is how the concept behind Magic Bus took shape for founder Matthew Spacie.
In one of the most famous anecdotes in the history of science, the young Isaac Newton is sitting in his garden when an apple falls on his head. In a stroke of brilliant insight , he suddenly comes up with his theory of gravity. Had the apple not fallen on his head, would we still be living in a world which did not understand gravity? What if Leon had continued to lead a monotonous depressed life as broker? Or if Ken a Forrest hadn’t read that issue of National Geographic? Or if Venkat hadn’t attended that town hall meeting?
It takes just a moment for an idea to make a difference hit us – what’s more important is that we act on it and not let that feeling pass.