Although we have a third of the year ahead of us, I had the opportunity back in April of this year to participate in what is undoubtedly one of my highlights in 2019: the Reimagining Education Together Conference (RET) organized by Big Change on Necker Island in the Britsh Virgin Islands.
In the midst of an awe-inspiring gathering of some of the most brilliant minds in education, I had the privilege to represent youth in the discussion. I am grateful for those conversations and the alliances that formed through them, all with the shared ambition to propel forward education as we know it.
You are never too big when united by a cause
Being under one roof with some of the smartest teachers, ministers, thought-leaders and activists was quite tremendous. Yet what was and still remains quite memorable to me is how down-to-earth and accommodating everyone in that room was; I was grounded by their humility.
Everyone was willing to take a step back to listen instead. Whether asked or not, everyone was willing to take more on their plate. And at the end of our time on Necker, people committed to do more and make more of the relationships built on the island for the sake of making education better for others. Still today I hear about the actions they are taking, sparing no expense or effort to do so.
When driven by a purpose, groups of people become selfless towards the cause.
Traditional education alone will not do. You need practical experiences.
Given my experiences with AIESEC (the world’s largest youth-run organization developing youth leadership through cross-cultural exchange experiences), I went to Necker with the tried and tested belief that youth need practical experiences to develop their leadership potential and the skill sets required for them to lead a thriving career are not only learned in the classroom. We had this belief validated through our 70+ years of work with young people and, recently, through asking them directly. Over 80% of the youth respondents to AIESEC’s global YouthSpeak Survey affirmed this.
This belief could not be reiterated better than how Sir Richard Branson put it:
“School should be outside of the classroom, not inside. Go and immerse yourselves in the real world. Go learn how real life works. In my profession, as long as I can add up, subtract and multiply, I can run one of the biggest companies in the world.”
Starting young boosts your entrepreneurial chances
I had the pleasure to have great conversations with Jamie Wheel, the Executive Director of Flow Genome Project and an expert on peak performance and leadership. I was taking his opinion on my career aspirations and potential next steps. Although I’ve always tinkered with the idea of starting my own company, I’ve yet to make the leap. Jamie got me looking at it differently when he put it this way:
“The older you get, the more you have to lose. There is no better time than now.”
The older you become, the more there is at stake and the harder it is for you to take a leap of faith necessary to build something from the ground up. There are more dependencies that we cannot overlook and thus making a decision to jump from whatever comfortable ship we are on and face the bitter unknown becomes less probable.
On another note, Jamie is also the author of the Pulitzer nominated global bestseller, Stealing Fire, a recommended read!
Another living proof of the success behind starting young is none other than Sir Richard Branson himself. In a panel with Spanx founder Sara Blakely hosted by Holly Branson, he was asked about what it means to be fearless and how did he embody that on his journey. This was his response:
“There’s not a lot of difference between an adventurer trying to achieve something for the first time and an entrepreneur. The sooner people can embark on an entrepreneurial career, the most likely they’ll learn from their mistakes and carry on.”
People are willing to lend a hand, if you are willing to ask
We are sometimes too negative about what is out there for us and others’ willingness to give a helping hand. This often comes from a fear of being snubbed or overlooked.
I would not refute that there are and will always be instances where some people will not offer you the kindness you expect but here is where you need to realize that it is a sport of both quantity and quality. You need to persist, with the right people.
On Necker, I saw a lot of kindness. I would credit that first and foremost to the kind nature of the people I was with on the island, but if I were to give the most weight to one thing , it would be to their dedication to the cause. If you are asking for a helping hand to further a cause one person is interested in or passionate about, the barrier between you and them is lifted. The ask no longer becomes to serve you, but to directly serve the cause. Hence, always choose the right people to whom your quest matters to them as much as it does to you.
Always know what game it is you are playing
My biggest highlight on Necker came at the very start in a space hosted by author Simon Sinek, where he spoke about his soon-to-be-released book The Infinite Game.
My takeaway was that a lot of businesses and organizations tend to look only at their competition when striving to improve. Their sole purpose becomes to beat them – forgetting why they started in the first place. This is the finite mindset that we should be seeking liberation from as we strive for greatness.
We should be embracing an infinite mindset – one where the most obvious and adopted answers are not always the correct ones and one where we strive to be better than the day before, every single day, regardless of anyone or anything external.
This one takeaway from a short conversation makes me excited to read the full book when it is released; I encourage you to do the same. I was also delighted to have some insightful conversations with Simon and I could not be more grateful for his words.
“Just because the model is normal and is operated by the vast majority does not mean we have to do it.”
These are a few of the many lessons, learnings and insights I gained from my time on Necker. I continue to look forward to the future work of the incredibles individuals I spent these days with and I owe them both gratitude and appreciation.