The more one understands the complexity of the challenges facing the world today—poverty, hopelessness, a fragile environment under ongoing threat, gender and age inequalities, economies in decline, to name just a few—the more one realizes that solutions are no longer simple or achievable without innovation and partnerships. These wicked problems require a collaborative process that brings together stakeholders and demands excellence from all.
The Tomorrow Lab process is at the very cutting edge of strategic solution-making for the future and will most certainly prove to be the difference between creating solutions that work, are sustainable and intelligent, and economize resources, and those that fail. In short, this process is THE key to success for anyone interested in innovative, future- focused, impactful solutions across sectors.
Not having been through such a process before, I was unsure about what to expect. Besides, my European perspective made me skeptical about a process that was foreign to me and completely unfamiliar. But when I read the team biographies, I started getting excited. Every participant seemed to have the most interesting background. I wondered what on earth we might accomplish together.
Day one, our facilitator led a discussion about our organization, Barefoot College, asking questions about what we do, how we do it and where we struggle. The questions got increasingly challenging and thought provoking, more difficult to answer. At times I got uncomfortable and felt like I was being led down a very dark, long tunnel. Unsettling.
Day one and two passed. I was mentally exhausted at the end of each day, but the lab structure allows for some nurturing, even relieving us of thinking about what we’d eat in the evening. I gave myself over to the process and found that a gentle and firm hand was leading me from one step to the next.
Day three was the breakthrough day. Suddenly, the whole team clicked and started contributing ideas to solving our challenge with the most simple and realizable solution. We dreamed. Spending an entire day letting our imaginations go wild was a deeply powerful experience.
On day four, our idea became real. We crafted a presentation deck and mocked it up. Just like when giving birth to a baby or completing a model plane for the first time, we had endless energy as our idea started to take shape. This is the day when the designers articulated through graphics, media and images the solution our team had created.
Day five was the pitch. On very little sleep and a whole lot of adrenalin, we presented our process and plan to an audience. This in my mind is an essential step in the lab process. Being able to tell the story of what we want to create to a room full of strangers was an opportunity to commit to the realization of the idea we crafted.
But in reality, the presentation was the culmination of a longer engagement that had begun some three months before. There is no question that the building of consciousness and the personal confidence gained from working with a group of collaborators over a period of time is the absolute key to success. Each time we connected—in person, by Skype or through Google Docs—we built the foundation for deep understanding among all involved. It allowed Tomorrow Partners to bring the right people together for the five-day lab, which was critical.
Since the lab, I’ve been better able to tell the story of my organization and I understand our challenges more clearly. I am more open and I know I’ll be innovative when crafting solutions in the future. I’ve learned a new route to impact that I plan on revisiting again and again. I’ve learned more than I ever imagined I would. I will never again view “design” in quite the same way.
As an entrepreneur, I have been working alone most of my life, driving my own vision or passion to reality. It is always a challenge to open up that box and allow others to come inside, letting someone else take your ideas out of the box and manipulate them, examine them and then comment on how they might achieve true excellence. Scary stuff. The nurturing and support given by the Tomorrow Lab organizers, facilitators and participants made that an absolutely seamless, positive and productive experience that could not have achieved a better result.
Philanthropy literally means “a love of humanity”. So, my deepest belief is that philanthropy is not something one “does”, but “ is”. In the same way, a social entrepreneur is not “created”, one is born that way. He is that kid who builds the lemonade stand on a sunny Saturday morning and cannot help giving away a few glasses to his friends who can’t pay. Philanthropy is about who you are and it requires that you consciously decide to listen to your inner voice to make it happen. Often, we must find a measure of strength to simply walk out on the high diving board and jump. I have found myself there through my passion for the mountains and the people who inhabit them, my love of sport, nature and physical challenge. As I think back and look into the rear view mirror, I realize that I was always going to find my way to Social Enterprise, one way or another. As the senior advisor to Barefoot College, I have finally come home.