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Igniting Change Leadership Gathering 2017

Igniting Change Leadership Gathering 2017

Social Garden founders Mike and George recently spent a week over on Necker Island for the Igniting Change Leadership Gathering. I sat down to have a chat with them about the sun, sand and insights from their experience over at Necker.

How and why did you get invited to the Igniting Change Leadership Gathering on Necker Island?

George:

We are fortunate enough to be involved with Igniting Change, and have been for over for the past 18 months. We work closely with Jane Tewson from Igniting Change. So, we were very lucky to be invited to come along by Igniting Change as part of the ongoing partnership between Igniting Change and Virgin Unite.

Igniting Change is just really about bringing people together to shine a light on the positive ideas and positive things that are happening in the world and how businesses can create a social impact.

Mike:

We were given the opportunity to learn about some of the challenges that the world is facing globally: both the positive changes that are being made, as well as where more focus needs to be. The collaboration of different and interesting people both inside and outside of the business world, kind of impacts the world. Also getting together key decision makers in the environmental and social worlds is a great way to have a transfer of ideas and information sharing.

Jane Tewson at Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Jane Tewson at Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

What is Virgin Unite?

George:

So Virgin Unite is Virgin’s philanthropic arm. Virgin Unite are involved in a whole wide range of different projects. They found an organisation called The Elders which President Zedillo, who was on the island and one of the speakers, is the chairman of. The Elders’ role is to drive change with the governments across the globe, including drug reform, focus on equality in countries, human rights, and peace. They work closely with Igniting Change.

How you got involved with Igniting Change?

Mike:

One of our board members, David Trewern, introduced us to Jane Tewson from Igniting Change and we were at the time involved in some different kinds of non profit activities. We discovered that we shared a similar vision for the role that business has with the community, so we started finding projects and things we could work on together, in order to spark change and address ways to utilise our skills for the good of the community and the planet.

George:

We really love working with Igniting Change because they are really a small organisation with massive impact and focus on the “not-so-sexy issues” whether it’s homelessness, youth imprisonment, drug reform, and we’re on the ground focused on issues that don’t get daylight.

Why do you think it’s important for Social Garden to be involved with incredible organisations like Igniting Change?

Mike:

I think organisational culture typically stems from people having shared beliefs around what’s important to them and the type of people working at Social Garden are people that have strong beliefs in the role that the business needs to play within the community.

It’s just good business to be focusing on making sure that the company is representing the values of the people inside the business and I think it’s also just important for George and me to have our own a personal viewpoint of the world. I think the dynamic nature of business generates ideas where thoughts can be applied to the nonprofit sector pretty successfully.

George:

Richard Branson talks about how you start making change by drawing yourself on the centre of the whiteboard essentially and drawing a circle around yourself and people in your business and the people most connected to you. We spend a lot of time together. As Mike mentioned, we have similar beliefs so we see it as our duty to empower the people, all these amazing people within our business to drive change, to be involved with groups like Igniting Change and push for the little guys who don’t get heard.

Necker Island | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Necker Island | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

What is the island like?

George:

It’s a tropical paradise in the middle of the Caribbean. This kind of whacky jungle with these crazy creatures: pink flamingos, tortoises, lemurs.

Mike:

Kind of Balinese architecture

George:

It’s really on point, not overdone and very beautiful. Lizards everywhere, iguanas. Like Dr Seuss or a Tim Burton movie.

Describe your time on Necker Island? What were your day-to-day activities?

Mike:

So every day at Necker starts off with learning in the morning and then play in the afternoon. We had two sessions that were led by different kinds of business leaders or environmental, or social leaders highlighting some problems.

Each morning was started off by someone who had a particularly extraordinary life. For one reason or another, sometimes good, sometimes bad. So that typically will transition, to a talk for an hour and then a half an hour discussion with all the guests, about 20 guests on the island, that will talk about and ask questions of these different people and then in the afternoon a myriad of different activities to join, whether it’s border skiing, zip lining…

George:

feeding the lemurs, feeding the giant tortoises

Jane Tewson at Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Mike:

playing basketball, playing tennis and at night time, there’s a lot of parties.

George:

Every meal we’d sit down, all the guests and everyone on the island would sit down and have each meal together. And at every meal, you’d be encouraged to sit down with different people, which is a really good chance to hear everyone’s stories, share your own story and really learn from people. That’s probably the thing at the week that you get most enjoyment out of and the most interesting to everyone on the island whether it’s the story or whether the people speaking or whether the people who are just like us, learning and listening to people for us was really amazing. And the food was pretty good as well…

Mike:

and the cocktails!

Richard Branson at Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Richard Branson at Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

What was it like meeting Richard Branson?

Mike:

This was the second time we’d spent time with Richard. The first time , we were nervous because we’re surrounded like all these superstars and we were just very conscious of what we were saying. The second time, we felt like we’d known him and his family – like Sam and Holly who are Richard’s kids – for quite a while, and it was awesome. Richard is a super cool guy. We played a lot of tennis against him, and surprisingly he’s amazing at tennis. He is a cool, laid back kind of guy.

George:

He has so much humility as well, hearing him talk about the animals on the island – there are a whole bunch of endangered species on the island: giant tortoises, pink flamingos. And he’s a part of preserving these beautiful creature. I just think his humility towards people, towards animals is quite breathtaking.

Mike:

His general attitude for the position he’s found and a place he’s at, it’s quite interesting to hear him talk about how connected he is to people who are working for him, which influences his decision making. It was tough at times and it created so many positive experiences through those connections and his approach to life and business I think is a good one, just having balance and enjoying himself, it’s really really important, as you know you love what you do, he really integrates his work in his life, very seamlessly into his life which I think is a good thing.

Mike:

His work life is not his other life; the whole thing as one is integrated. And this is something we’re very focused on, not having a version of your work self and other version of yourself. This is who we are, we are trying to facilitate that into Social Garden where people can be themselves and not feel like they have to put up a barrier between themselves or what they’re like outside of work or what they’re like at work, and that’s just how life really is.

Anthony Ray Hinton at Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Anthony Ray Hinton at Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Apart from Richard Branson, name someone you met who has completely changed your worldview

Mike:

Definitely Anthony Ray Hinton who was on death row for thirty years for a crime he didn’t commit. His story of forgiveness, how he was able to let go of the anger, despite having the best part of his life taken from him. It was pretty horrific to hear that. In terms of how that’s impacted the rest of my life, certainly just having the general sense of gratitude that this fortunate position we live in that makes you appreciate the small things and also teaches you a lesson of that forgiveness.

What were some important lessons you learned during your time on Necker Island?

George:

We spoke a lot about purpose while we were there. In business, we set a lot of goals; that’s kind of what drives us. Taking a step back and thinking about our purpose and how we can harness that to make an impact on the people and the communities around us is probably something that has probably stuck with us.

Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

Igniting Change Leadership Gathering | photo by Erika P. Rodriguez

What was the highlight of your trip?

George:

The foremost highlight of the trip was hearing the speakers, hearing the stories, having these people kind of bring us into their world and understanding what they’ve been through and what they’ve learned. Outside of that, was really socialising with everyone and just talking and listening and sharing these amazing ideas with these really incredible people

Mike:

Playing basketball with President Zedillo was pretty sick and just like hearing him talk about the challenges of Mexico, and just listening and chatting to him was super interesting. He is an incredibly knowledgable guy, with an extremely good jump shot and is a super cool, interesting dude.

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