Ernesto Sirolli – Shut Up and Listen!

I just love this talk. It is perhaps one of the most important TED talks ever related to the field of ethics and doing good. Ernesto Sirolli’s work as an enterprise facilitator is well known around the world. In this talk he shares both his early experiences in what doesn’t work in Africa, as well as his work with entrepreneurs in Australia and beyond.

There are many great lessons in this, but I just love his 2 principles of:

  1. Never Initiate Anything
  2. Never Motivate Anyone

Your job is to simply shut up and listen!

Embracing failure and giving beneficiaries a voice

This post is actually about two distinct but connected topics: embracing failure and giving beneficiaries a voice. It was only after writing the piece Do you get your market’s vote? that I stumbled upon this TED talk by David DambergerWhat happens when an NGO admits failure.

In it Damberger beautifully articulates the principle I was talking about in my previous post. Rather than go down the route of NGO closure, he instead wonders about how we might innovate to give beneficiaries a vote.

The other part of Damberger’s talk is around failure. This is a topic I hear people talk about a lot, but struggle with how to bring it to life. The most powerful part is when he shares his own personal regret about a failure he was engaged with, and the downside of the ‘do-gooder-as-hero’ myth. He also points to Engineers Without Borders (Canada) culture of embracing failure, and a fabulous website they developed which unpacks and explores failure – Admitting Failure. Well worth checking out.

Ethics and reincarnation

I was at a party the other night and was struck by how many people there had deep spiritual interests. On top of this, they were all pursuing powerful and purposeful lives. In short, they were wanting to do good in the world.

We got talking about ethics and where our western thought around what is right or wrong, good or bad comes from. One woman in our circle studied philosophy and ethics extensively, and declared that she always had trouble with the dominance of ‘white men’ as the pinnacle of ethical thinking, at least in the West. The conversation wasn’t all ‘gendered’ either. We unpacked a number of dimensions of modern ethical thinking, including this obsession with rational thought and how that might have influenced our thinking in this way.

As our conversation unfolded, it became clear that we all shared a belief or knowing around the principle of reincarnation. For some of us the knowledge that we are all Souls who inhabits many bodies over many lifetimes, has become such a central feature or lens through which we view ourselves and the world. Of course, reincarnation is not limited to our conversation circle. Reincarnation has been a central tenet of many spiritual teachings across the world for eons.

While it has not been a central feature of the Christian faith (there are references to reincarnation in the Bible), Read more

I know what I know: change through art vs politics

On Friday I managed to catch an incredible documentary: “Under African Skies”. It followed Paul Simon as he journeyed back to South Africa to reunite with the musicians he collaborated with to produce the Graceland album. The film had such an impact on me, bringing me to tears on a number of occasions.

This album was very special to me. It came out when I was 10 years old and we had a cassette of it that was played almost until it could play no more. The songs have been a soundtrack for my life. My family have jammed the whole album over the years, me picking up piano accordion for renditions of “You Can Call Me Al”, and playing “Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes” at my brother’s wedding.

It was through Graceland that I first connected to Africa. The rhythms of “Gumboots” and the deep a capella of “Homeless” somehow took me to a place that I had not experienced before. In listening to this music it seemed as if it was part of me. The idea of having a past life in southern Africa is about the only Read more

How forgiveness went viral in Rwanda

A few years back I had the privilege of traveling to Rwanda to spend time with a friend with whom I had been collaborating with on a business start up. I met Ndekezi originally in South Africa in 2006, after which he and I both spent some time together in each of our countries.

Through my time and friendship with Ndekezi I learnt a great deal about life in Rwanda, how to start a business there, his passion for peace and love, and the African approach to entrepreneurship. I have also come to observe this in other entrepreneurs I have met from different parts of Africa. While there is no ‘one’ Africa, nor indeed only one approach to entrepreneurship there, I have certainly come to appreciate and respect a very different way of approaching change and ‘doing good’ in other parts of the world.

One particular story that I think captures the essence of the “Rwandan Way” is the process the nation embarked upon post-Genocide. Without going into the full depths of the Genocide story, this event in 1994 was a pivotal point in the history of that country and the world in terms of what we expect of ourselves and our Governments. In 100 days, almost 1,000,000 people (1/8 of the country) were killed . This all happened in a physical space less than half the size of Tasmania.

In the wake of this extraordinary event, Rwanda had numerous challenges. In addition to the ongoing issues of health, food security and a struggling economy, Read more