Sunday, February 10, 2008

Everything To Gain

After watching Frans Lanting the other day and wondering what kind of accent he had, my sister told me it was the Majora Carter TED Talk and especially Majora's last line that had inspired her the most. At the end of her talk, Majora called on the TED audience to use its influence to fight for environmental and economic justice. She asked that everyone demand comprehensive sustainable change and participate in bringing it about. And then, to make sure everything she said stuck, she gave a little reminder:

By working together, we can become one of those small, rapidly growing groups of individuals, who actually have the audacity and courage to believe that we actually can change the world. We might have come to this conference from very, very different stages in life, but, believe me, we all share one incredibly powerful thing: we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Nothing to lose.

Talking about Majora's pleas and watching her again made me think of the moment I first realized that I was about to start a business and build a website...

In late February 2007, Ludovic got in touch about a fellowship. He had an inside tie to a foundation, and they were looking to send a few people on two year world tours studying and writing about social ventures and their impacts. He wondered if I might I be interested.

I told him I'd quit my job and start tomorrow if they wanted.

Ludo was going to be back in Beijing in early March, so we set up a time to have dinner.

The time came. We went to the restaurant. And Ludo started interviewing me, which was weird. I was expecting dinner with a friend, not an interview. But I couldn't run away. I'd taken my coat off. We'd ordered. And I was hungry. So I went with it.

He asked me about my goals and long term orientation. I sputtered something about "the environment" and sustainable business. I mentioned Ray Anderson and Paul Hawken. And I said I wanted to work on harnessing greed, angling it in new directions, and seeing if we could get it to drag us off toward a happy, equitable, sustainable world.

Ludo seemed intrigued and asked me if I had any business ideas of my own. The next Interface maybe? The next Smith & Hawken?

Well, not exactly, I said, but there is this website I've been thinking about. It's all about choice. Real choice. Educated choice. Meaningful choice. Democratic economics. I want to be rooting for certain businesses to succeed and actively supporting them every time I buy something. But I don't know for whom I should be rooting. So I want a quick, easy website on which I can compare brands and make purchasing decisions.

Ludo asked why I wasn't building the website.

I went on a little rave about lacking skills and experience and needing to learn more and work for more great people. And then I gave him the real kicker and reminded him that I was only 25.

He told me I was making excuses. There's nothing wrong with being young and inexperienced, he said. The younger you are, the less likely you'll let conventional wisdom limit you. The younger you are, the more likely you'll listen to good advice. And, the younger you are, the less distance you'll have to fall if things don't work out.

Apparently, it seems, I've listened to Ludovic. We're building the website. We're building the business. And I'm not afraid of falling.

Part of my courage comes from the fact that I don't have any track record or reputation to protect. Part of it comes from knowing that there will be other projects, other jobs, and other academic opportunities. Part of it comes from my belief that, succeed or fail, there will be a whole lot of learning I can do in the process. But most of my courage comes from agreeing with Majora. I agree that, not only do I have nothing to lose, but WE, in a very big sense, have nothing to lose.

Our world doesn't have environmental and economic justice. We haven't made comprehensive sustainable change. There are amazing things about the world we've created (and shockingly amazing things about the natural world that created us), but that's no reason to get comfortable or complacent or inflexibly conservative. There remains so much room for improvement. There's so much we haven't yet achieved. To lose the world we have now is to lose an incomplete and inequitable success. We don't need to be ashamed of that success, but we shouldn't be satisfied either. We have better tools now, minds that are better connected, a better understanding of history. We can and should make a better world.

I think I've found a way, by building that website and providing a tool that consumers can use to figure out which businesses are worthy of their support, to actively participate in making it better right now. So I'm trying. I think Majora would appreciate the effort if nothing else.


Prairie Dogg said...

I think what you're doing is great. Really look forward to seeing more posted here about the details of what you're planning to do. When do you think the public will be able to get a glimpse of the tools that you all are building?

Jake de Grazia said...

We're getting really close to letting people see the prototype. Making a couple more little adjustments and entering a little more dummy info for demonstration purposes. But how about next week?

If I haven't posted some screenshots up on the blog by Wednesday, I give everyone permission to bug me until I do. Fair enough?