How does love fit into the picture?
How does love fit into the picture? avatar

In the rich discussion about social entrepreneurship there is a key issue which I feel is many times left unmentioned or just vaguely stated: what is the role played by our spiritual being, our life force, in this field – on the social entrepreneur as well as on the rest of stakeholders, the rest of society. It is evident that a strong spiritual motivation is present in the mind and private sphere of most of these initiatives, but we do not seem to be able to put it on the table for discussion, to learn more about how it operates. We usually stay on the “means” field: processes, scale, measurable impact. We get trapped in the world of words, of rationality, and tend to ignore the side of the brain (what was it? the right side?) that Pedro Tarak mentioned in the closing panel of the World Leaders Forum in Buenos Aires that we should pay more attention to: the intuitive and creative side.

I was impressed by the BMW Foundation’s highlight, from the previous Mumbai forum, of Ghandi’s phrase: “be the change you want to see in the world”. This catches precisely what I mean: we speak about bringing about change, but how hard do we try ourselves and how well prepared are we to bring about change for others? Change in what? In the sphere of actions, I think there is no doubt: social enterprises have a huge potential to bring about practical improvements in the quality of life of millions. But is this the only level in which we ought to operate? Is this alone what will bring about profound and durable change, the kind of change that will help humanity take a more decisive leap forward in its evolution as a spiritual being? Maybe, but I wonder: I think humanity has always, always, had the means to solve basic issues like poverty. More so in the last centuries, when we have achieved impressive technological breakthroughs. But what we have never been able to do is to solve our insufficient capacity to sacrifice for others, to love others more, to forget more about ourselves, our egos. Our tools are more sophisticated now, but we use them in basically the same way. As I heard once from a friend: “the problem is in the hearts and minds of people”. Maybe it is time we try harder to learn about the link between these two spheres, “the hardware and the software”, the real spiritual intent of our actions, and its implications.

Some disciplines of science (for example neuroscience and quantum physics) have been telling us in the last decades that reality might just not be as we thought it was. Not even time and space appear as certainties any more. Science ends up using words that used to belong to the fields of philosophy or religion, at a time when we could be going through a new “Copernican revolution”, a change of paradigm, the center of which is how the human mind is affecting, and creating, reality, and how the outside is not different from the inside, but part of a whole, a unity. What implications does this have on social entrepreneurship? I think it should get us ecstatic: we really have the power to do whatever we can imagine. It is just a question of getting enough people to firmly believe in something for that something to become real. See if not how “real” was the impressive economic growth the world experienced for many years, and how “real” is now the crisis. And in between, what has “really” changed? “Real” was the immense power of now fallen dictators in the Middle East (as Hobbes said, “Ilusion of power is power”). What is the fortune of an unhappy millionaire “really” worth for him or her? In the end, we live in a world of perceptions. But are they our innate, deepest perceptions, or are we nothing but still blindfolded beings, disconnected from our own internal wisdom?

I used the word “love” in the title because I think it conveys the idea of forgetting about oneself. In fact, when one is in love, does one care about profit or personal gain? Scale? Measuring anything? I think not. On the contrary, one feels inspired to give, to give oneself and even all of one’s possessions. To act intuitively, free of the defined. It is known that in the history of humankind many people have done quite “crazy” things motivated by love. Crazy according to who’s standards? So what if we could bring some of that “crazy” motivation into social enterprise, and in fact into all of our human acts.

The first thing I can think of is in the uselessness of so much expenditure in the military, worldwide, but from the most evident we can then move on to the least and most difficult: what is the intimate motivation of my own acts? Am I doing the best I can, as a being that in the very end “will leave no more trace than a stone, thrown into a river, leaves on the surface of the water”? What is my purpose in life? What am I here to do? We tend to give our individual selves too much importance, when individuality might, after all, end up being nothing but an erroneous – or only a very partially valid – point of view.

I am under the impression that social entrepreneurs have the opportunity to bequeath to society, besides new ideas and business models, the legacy of a motivation for action based on the love for others; a motivation rooted in a profound existential meaning and purpose that can permeate to the leaders of the rest of the spheres of society – and from there to all.

Looking for an Excellent Investment?
Looking for an Excellent Investment? avatar

By Yasemin Sirali

Yesterday I held a Marketplace Session about how to “globalize” the Mother Child Education Foundation’s know-how. ACEV (www.acev.org), as we abbreviate in Turkish, is an Istanbul-based NGO that develops and implements face-to-face and distant-learning early childhood education and parent training programs for the socioeconomically disadvantaged, runs awareness raising campaigns and lobbies for stronger policies to enhance development opportunities in the early years of children. Albeit not being implied in the title, one of the important programs ACEV has developed is to support fathers, whose role as first educators of their children is just as important as that of mothers.

Why early childhood? Majority of brain development takes place in the first 60 months of an individual’s life making initial years the most formative ones. Proper stimulation in early years translates to better cognitive, social, emotional and physical development, higher academic aptitude and increased lifetime earnings. Therefore, investment in early years is a sound one for parents, philanthropists, development fund managers and governments: every dollar invested in this period returns to the economy as 7 dollars.  To make the most of this opportunity for providing fair chances and elimination of inequalities, James Heckman, Nobel laureate in economics, recommends revising the MDGs to focus on early childhood: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/sep/23/early-child-development-mdgs

The aforementioned education programs of ACEV have been scientifically developed, evaluated for impact, and “exported” to 12 countries in Europe, Middle East and South America.  They have reached nearly 700.000 beneficiaries since 1993 and recognized through numerous awards by international development actors such as UNESCO and WISE Network of the Qatar Foundation. ACEV has also been contributing to research and advocacy on global platforms through partnerships forged with Harvard and Yale Universities.

As of the end of 2011, organizations from 18 additional countries had requested the programs and were in search of funding. Receiving requests is exciting but identifying the right partners who have the managerial, financial and training capacity to pilot and sustain the implementation of programs in countries other than Turkey is challenging. This leaves me with questions around whether to take a more proactive approach to expanding ACEV’s footprint, whom to transfer this knowledge to in different countries, and under what terms and conditions.

Joining the Marketplace were Isabel Costa, Omar Faruk, Yury Vybornov, Boris Hajos, Ulf Baecker, and Nicholas Hall who graciously offered their networks in the UK, Libya, Russia and Croatia for establishing sound partnerships and mobilizing funds. Ulf and Nick’s insights into the differencebetween globalization versus internationalization, need to develop organizational capacity to manage expansion, and a shift from reactive to proactive method of transferring know-how were also invaluable. Many thanks to all six of you!

Young Leaders interested in contributing to the cause or finding out more about ACEV are welcome to reach me at yasemin.sirali@acev.org.

Making Sense
Making Sense avatar

Let me introduce to you some interesting folks from the forum. They are exploring sensory experience albeit from very different roots. It’s a subject that is tied to evolutionary psychology and embodied cognition: how do our bodies help us understand things?

Alejandra Lillo and Bryan Flaig are architects and newlyweds working as Undisclosable. Recently they produced an experiential pavilion through the Creators Project, a joint venture of Intel and Vice.

The cathedral-like tent structure features music stems from”Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”, a looping, harmonious, epic song of longing by 90′s psych-rockers Spirtualized. Light and sound stream from windows high above to create a highly emotional, or some even say spiritual, experience. You can see a video clip from Coachella here: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Christian Köhler is the director of Markenverband (the German Brand Association) and also has connections to SAM Research. SAM (Sensory & Marketing), based in Zurich, develops sensory signatures for auto, pharma and beauty brands by using consumer insights to create distinct smells and textures to build desirable experiences.

Embracing holistic human experiences like these stand out as a necessity to truly engage people. In our discussions about social cohesion we often discuss the inequities of wealth and choice. Discussing inequities of emotional fulfillment and taking time to consider why some solutions resonate more genuinely than others may make this goal even more attainable.

The Best Coffee in the World
The Best Coffee in the World avatar

When I told friends I was coming to Buenos Aires I got an earful on personal safety and the trustworthiness of strangers. Here is a contrasting story to return balance to The Force.

I spent late afternoon today strolling around Capital Federal and decided to pop into a café for pick-me-up. I walked up to the bar and ordered an espresso to receive an immediate reply of three curious faces curling into question marks- my inadequate recollection of high school Spanish betrayed me. After struggling to order a coffee and standing awkwardly quiet while the barista’s futilely queried me, a gentleman from the kitchen stepped out and said, “sit down”. I did, relieved.

A few minutes later my espresso arrived. After a couple of quick draws I was done. These were minutes of bliss between two anxious storms. Now it was time to pay. I received my check and placed a large bill in the folder which she whisked away. A few minutes later a different woman, who appeared to be the manager or owner, arrived at my table and spoke to me in English.

“Do you have any smaller bills?” she asked.

“No?…Sorry….,” with my eyebrows raised and tail between my legs.

“No worries then. Go on. You don’t need to pay. it’s OK,” she said with a smile.

“Sorry—gracias!…. Uh,thank you,” bobbing my head profusely.

Embarrassed, I quickly took my bill, then grabbed the torn sugar packet and napkin from the table, shuffled out the door and promptly threw the trash away in a street refuse bin. The least I could do was bus my own table for a free cup of kindness.

People First
People First avatar

I am a designer, and as you might guess, a forum that includes thought leaders on policy and economics is intimidating to me, so I’ve had to brush up on my reading. During the past week I’ve been learning about our host country, Argentina. Several items have piqued my interest, especially given the sustained growth of public disappointment with governments around the globe a la Occupy (Your Name Here). Argentina’s economy has improved dramatically over the last decade after a horrendous collapse. People are happy about this according to researchers. I want to see it for myself and I’m glad I can!

If you listen to politicians and their arguments for solving our biggest crises, they are being boiled down to state vs. market. Which one should have the most freedom or control? Let’s be honest, both have failed us so it’s safe to say the answer is not any more black and white than the problem. Continuing the debate at a high altitude is not going to lead to actionable change. It’s going to be much more complicated because we – humanity – are complicated.

During the forum I’ll be wearing my citizen hat at a lower altitude— the ground. When challenges are brought forth I’ll be trying to understand from an individual’s point of view. By starting here I’ll be able to ask questions that might help define opportunities for design, opportunities that may lead to the social cohesion we desire. For example, how do people work around the system? What are their circumstances that have created this? What does that teach us about their values or latent needs?

This is the beginning of design: starting with the experiences of people. We identify the behaviors needed to create an ideal experience, then figure out what must be made, sold or written into law. It’s not an easy task— many times we (the people) don’t know what we need, so asking us doesn’t help. We are motivated more by our experiences than our beliefs, but we often speak from our beliefs rather than from our experiences. Learning how to observe is a key to overcoming this paradox so that you can design (or innovate) a solution. That said, I’ll be out and about this afternoon observing, and look forward to sharing more tomorrow when we kick off.

Reporting from la Capital: Buenos Aires
Reporting from la Capital: Buenos Aires avatar

Hola a todos,

Tonight, I finally managed to stay awake and live the charm of Buenos Aires while dining at Lo de Jesus in the hip Palermo neighborhood. Argentinean steak is as succulent as expected and the Malbecs are as smooth as silk, so prepare for some culinary delight besides the jet lag in the upcoming days.

Back in 2005, I almost flunked a class at B-school for defending Argentina’s decision to default on its debt. Having breathed Buenos Aires in the last couple of days has imparted me with more pleasant memories.

Besides the exquisite purple jacaranda trees, what I have been pleasantly surprised to witness is the authentic pace of life, what lives and feels like a well established urban infrastructure, and the high rate of older city dwellers enjoying a chat at the cafes and present on the streets which to me signals social inclusion apart from an aging population.

What has also struck me was how visual and relentless the habitants are with vocalizing their messages on the sidewalks and walls that make up this city. I am sharing those I spotted by the Congress building. The very same ones were repeated over and over again on almost every street I walked by in different neighborhoods. It made me wonder to what extent social media is used in Argentina.

And here is something I brought up while dining with Matthias this evening and I want to ask you the same: when was the last time you learned of a new concept from someone?

Once done with school be it undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate, and having assumed leadership positions at existing or self-initiated organizations, there comes a point where nobody is systematically “feeding” you with new ideas and concepts; rather you have to develop the opportunities to continue to learn and be truly stimulated. Therefore when I read the sign “Expectimus Dominus” on the gate of the acclaimed Cementerio de la Recoleta today, I realized I was expecting to meet with all of you to introduce me to new passages in the labyrinth of knowledge and progress.

I am truly thankful to the BMW Foundation for providing us with that opportunity. This gathering promises to be as enlightening as reflected by the intellect, diversity and dynamism of its participants, organizers, and contributors.

See you soon.