All images by Leonora Oppenheim - Mickey Smith speaking at the Do Lectures 2011
So far in our Do Lectures 2011 series we've talked about the fact that Things Are Not Just The Way They Are, we always need to ask difficult questions and challenge the status quo. We've thought about what we can we personally can bring to the table of change in What Can You Uniquely Do? Today we're looking at the third theme that came out of the Do Lectures this year, Start Where You Live. The idea here is that you really don't need to go very far in order to create a positive impact. You could begin with yourself, your home, your street or your community, but the important thing is just to start. The Great Reconnection
At the most basic level Start Where You Live begins with ourselves, in our hearts, minds and bodies. Are they connected? Christiana Wyly asked in her talk. We need to create "The Great Reconnection" within ourselves, she says. The first step in taking action on the issues we care about is acknowledging that how we feel, how we think, and what we do need to be truly connected. It is when we hold these in separate spheres that things really start to go wrong, enabling people to justify pretty much anything.
Slide from Christiana Wyly's Do Lecture talk
Christiana used the example of a great family man, she knows, who is in the big business of making candy for kids. How, she asked, when he loves his own kids so much, can he justify making sugar filled snacks that contribute to childhood obesity and the spread of type 2 diabetes? When met with Christiana's difficult question he didn't have an answer other than to say, "But hey, candy is fun!" He just didn't make the connection between himself and his job, his business and his family.
Home is where the start is
The radical midwife Caroline Flint argued that the best start anyone can have in life is to be born at home, where they live, with a relaxed mother in the comfort and security of familiar surroundings. Others, like Mickey Smith, described how vital their childhood environment was in influencing what they do now. With nothing to much do in rural Cornwall, other than explore the coastline, Mickey spent most of his days outside and in the sea creating his own adventures. He has grown up, but not out of the habit of documenting these expeditions into the wild waves. His surfing photography and films are now inspiring kids everywhere to get out into the water and record the world around them. Mickey explains,
"I never really thought, 'I'm going to document this,' it was just part of my whole experience and relationship with the coast. It was a natural part of it for me, as soon as my mum gave me my first disposable camera. Originally I was just doing it for myself, but as time went on I got more into the technical aspects of photography, then there were personal challenges that I enjoyed and getting to a level that I was pleased with in the work I was creating. Now I want other people to be able to enjoy and relate to these kind of places, to see and experience what we do in the sea."
A film by Mickey Smith about his work, in memory of his sister Cherry.
Giving back to the community
By contrast there were those speakers whose childhood experiences were so far removed from what they do now it is astonishing. Solar entrepreneur Glen Peters was almost moved to tears in his talk when he reflected on where he grew up in the slums of Calcutta compared to where he lives now in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Glen's home is the beautiful estate of Rhosygilwen, a 300 year old gothic mansion situated in 55 acres of abundant parkland. It is here, at home, that Glen decided to create Western Solar, Pembrokeshire's first solar farm which will feed 1MW of renewable energy into the local grid, enough to power 300 homes.
Aerial view of Rhosygilwen and Glen Peter's Western Solar Park. Image via Western Solar
"Privilege comes with responsibilities," says Glen, referencing the amazing journey he has made from Calcutta to Rhosygilwen. That feeling of needing to give back to the community is also what motivated Faisal Rahman to set up Fair Finance, a micro lending business in East London. After working with Muhammad Yunus at Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Faisal returned to his own community in Stepney with a new perspective. Seeing loan sharks taking advantage of people who could not work their way out of poverty, Faisal realised there was an opportunity to lend people money sustainably, even in London. Fair Finance gives them the respect and trust they couldn't find in the mainstream financial services. Its first five years the organisation has lent £2.5m (€3m) to 6,000 people in London and has saved them an estimated £800,000 in interest.
Faisal Rahman speaking about Victoria Obanye, one of the women Fair Finance lends to.
Grow your own at home
Helping people out of dire poverty is also the chosen path of 25 year old Zimbabwean Chido Govera. As matter of survival Chido learned, when she was just an 11 year old orphan, to grow mushrooms with organic waste materials such as used coffee grounds. She was trained on a fungiculture programme by the ZERI foundation, which enabled her to grow and sell mushrooms to support her younger brother and grandmother. She has now passed on her skills to hundreds of other people living in poverty, from women in India to homeless people in San Francisco. Chido's Future of Hope Center in Zimbabwe now creates sustainable livelihoods by teaching orphans like herself to grow mushrooms. As Chido says, "Abuse can stop when you can feed yourself."
Chido Govera speaking at the Do Lectures 2011
Nurturing our ability to feed ourselves is also the mission of the Grow It Yourself movement founded by Michael Kelly in Ireland. Starting out by experimenting with growing vegetables in his own garden at home Michael then persuaded his neighbours and friends that they could do the same. Here is another person who was told in response to a difficult question, "That's just the way things are." Like Christiana, Michael wasn't prepared to accept this answer, to why his local supermarket was stocking Chinese garlic, and decided he must be able to do better at home. He could and now from the planting of just one seed in his garden a dynamic community of 10 000 GIYers has grown in Ireland, the UK and Australia.
Michael Kelly speaking about his Grow It Yourself friends in his community in Ireland
Use what is in front of you
Starting at home, starting where we live, is the first step to inspire others to create change too. There is no need to go far. As improv expert Rob Poynton says "Use what is in front of you." Improvisation is just the method that David and Alison Lea-Wilson used to create their own celebrated organic sea salt brand Halen Môn. In Welsh Halen means salt and Môn is the word for Anglesea where the Lea-Wilsons live. Looking for a new business idea David and Alison decided to use the most plentiful material on their door step, the sea.
Halen Môn sea salt made in Anglesea, Wales. Image via Halen Môn
They took a bucket of sea water from the Menai Straight off the Isle of Anglesea and tried evaporating it on their kitchen stove to create sea salt. The first try, as Alison readily admits, resulted in an unappetising muddy sludge, but now 13 years later, having perfected the process, they supply 20 countries with their local sea salt. Some of the world's best restaurants use Halen Môn due to its unique almost sweet taste, it is even used to make Obama's favourite chocolates - smoked sea salt on caramel. Halen Môn travelling from the Lea-Wilson's farm house to the White House is quite a journey, which goes to show starting where you live really has no limits. Just start with what you've got and see where it takes you.
More on The Do Lectures
Do Lectures 2011 - What Can You Uniquely Do?
Do Lectures 2011 - 5 Lessons on How to Love Life & Improve the World Around You
The Do Lectures' Bold Designer Posters Deliver Motivating Resolutions for the New Year
Not a Dry Eye In The House - Maggie Doyne Tells Her Incredible Story At The Do Lectures 2010
The Do Lectures 2009 - Bonfire Brands
The Do Lectures 2009 - The Axeness of an Axe
The Do Lectures 2009 - Take The First Step
The Do Lectures 2009 - Turn Off Your TV
The Do Lectures 2009 - Big Hairy Audacious Goals