It was Day 1 of training for a group of volunteers brought together for the PULSE programme, run by GSK. We had come from different technical backgrounds, different countries and different cultures, and had only one thing in common. We had all raised our hands to participate in helping our communities without knowing who we were going to help.
As I sat there trying to understand why I needed a training course in volunteering, when I had been volunteering all my life, a speaker walked in who made me realise why I was there. He started his talk by saying “I will start with the ending first – I AM AMAZING”. I was slightly taken aback, initially thinking “how arrogant”. However, what he conveyed through his stories is just how amazing each of us has the potential to be. Through the next 3 days, I heard numerous stories of amazing achievements by individuals who had taken a leap of faith and made a significant difference in the world. One such story is a nurse who travelled to Africa and worked with the community to identify why infant mortality was still high despite good healthcare provision. She identified tangible actions that could be taken to improve the situation. Another colleague shared a story of galvanising a group of people to help him plant over 100,000 trees, whilst being a full-time employee at GSK.
At the end of the 3 days, we understood how similar our stories were, in terms of a shared purpose and our need to make a difference in society. I also realised how wrong I had been about “knowing it all”, with regards to volunteering. The most important lesson I learnt was “Don’t put solutions in place for people without listening to them about what they would like”. This was conveyed by a story which became a favourite amongst the team. An Italian expert in agriculture goes to Africa and decides to grow tomatoes, to help increase the food available for the community He finds some fertile ground which is not being used for agriculture. He plants some tomato seeds, and has to convince the local people to help him cultivate his crop. The locals are not very keen on helping, so eventually he pays them for their help. The tomatoes grow extremely well in this valley, next to a river and they yield large tomatoes, much larger than ones in Europe. The expert is extremely pleased with his efforts. Then, a few days before harvesting, a bunch of hippos come out of the river and ate the entire crop. The expert is totally dejected, and asks the local people why they hadn’t warned him about it. They told him that he hadn’t asked for their opinion. This expert learnt his lesson, but there were many others who want to do good in the world, but have no idea what the people they are trying to help actually need. He consoled himself that at least “he fed the hippos”.
Each story conveyed the message that one person with the right intention has the potential to really make a difference. Today the hippo expert has helped a multitude of companies set up partnerships and avoid the pitfalls that he encountered. Even the failures lead to spectacular wins if you persevere. As I start on a new project with Malaria No More UK, I am wondering whether I will be able to claim that I was “amazing”. I know this question does not just apply to those of us participating through GSK’s PULSE programme, but each of you reading this. Are you already AMAZING? If not, like me, you want to start this journey, please share your stories of what you are planning to do, so we can be inspired by you.
An AMAZING ORGANISATION: www.malarianomore.org.uk