In the modern age of work, it seems every day there is a new buzzword, hot trend or new initiative for companies to adopt to compete in the war for talent. Businesses expect their “People Success” A.K.A People & Culture, A.K.A. Human Resources teams to wade through all these concepts to find those unique ideas that tick both boxes by benefiting both the people and the business alike. Unfortunately, even after finding the silver bullet that you believe is going to help your business, the real challenge is yet to come. Now it’s time to roll out this new concept, get buy-in and truly realise some beneficial outcomes for all.
The flavour of the month will change, the name of HR will change, but what won’t change is the inherent desire that people have to feel fulfillment. Today more than ever people want to make a difference, to know their purpose, to find their “why”. At whatever level or role we find ourselves in; be it personally, professionally, as a business or in our broader community, we want to affect change. How do we as individuals strike that fine balance between our professional ambitions, and our personal desires, commitments, interests, families and friends. At a company level, how do organisations balance their business interests, targets, revenue, profits and dividends with their moral obligations or desires to benefit the world around them?
I was faced with these questions last year when we sat down to review the work we were doing as a business with charities across the region. For many years our business has made donations to charities that are close to our hearts, we make these donations often on behalf of our amazing speakers who give up their time to share their experiences for others to learn from and progress their own abilities or careers. While we have always been aware that our donations were in some way helping to make a difference, it was sometimes difficult to see the real impact of what we were doing. An open discussion around what we might be able to do to have a greater impact with our donation program led to us reaching out to a former member of the Liquid Learning family who had recently started an international charity, and there sparked a beautiful journey.
After starting with Liquid Learning in 2009 in sales and later spending time in a content production role, Johnny Ward took his acquired skills on the road in the most literal sense. After deciding that his passion for travel had not been satisfied by the 20 or so countries he had visited and the multiple countries he had lived in since leaving Northern Ireland, I joined him on a trip to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Following an amazing trip I returned to Sydney to continue my professional journey and Johnny went on to travel to every country in the world! Documenting his journey through his blog OneStep4Ward he amassed a following and found commercial success through this evolving into an online media business. His story has since gone viral more than once as people find inspiration in his ability to turn his passion into professional success. Johnny has since linked up with another digital nomad in Josh Henry - a Canadian with more than a knack for travel photography. The two of them have embarked on the little mission of “changing the face of travel, for good!” through their charity Giveback Giveaway - an organisation that spearheads grassroots infrastructure projects like schools, amenities, housing and playgrounds for the people of rural communities in third world countries. These projects are wrapped up with an opportunity to explore the rich beauty of these countries as a traveler with a much deeper appreciation for the existence of the local people.
Johnny and Josh’s personal stories, as well as their charity, are extreme examples of what lies beyond work/life balance, that is, work/life integration. Or, as I like to call it, life. When the conversation came up around how we can deepen the impact of our charitable work, I mentioned Giveback Giveaway as an example of what we might be able to look into as an alternative to some of the more established and well-known charities in Australia. What started as a flippant comment quickly evolved into a very real prospect as we discussed ideas around how we might be able to make something happen. The interactions started with two old colleagues and friends bouncing some ideas about whether their two organisations could work hand in hand, and within days the ball was rolling fast. A number of conversations uncovered a range of challenges including project locations, unique project contracts, local partners to work with and logistics. Employing the right mindset we were tackling challenges with ease and before we knew it we were set up to run our first project in Battambang, Cambodia.
We had never done anything like this before, so to be honest, we had no idea what to expect. The Cambodia project was to be a learning experience, a chance for us to see first hand how these projects take shape, see the real impact of what we were doing and to help us understand what this new initiative might evolve into down the line. After a rugged 7-hour bus journey from Bangkok to Battambang on some dubious unsealed roads, a slightly dodgy feeling cash-on-arrival border crossing and some no doubt extremely unhealthy but equally delicious sticky pork skewers on route, we arrived at our destination for the next few days.
Our project saw us partner with a local charity KNGO, started by a local man Saveth who very literally opened the doors of his family home many years ago to help his community and country following the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime by providing free English classes to local children and provide a base upon which the community might be able to rebuild and develop for the future. Our team from Liquid Learning were greeted at the accommodation by Judy and Peter, an Australian couple who helped to make the whole project possible, these two heroes stumbled across Saveth’s noble venture years ago when cycling through southeast Asia and have since dedicated their lives and savings to the cause, they have been crucial in helping Saveth to develop the charity and the school into what it is today and are 2 more great examples of intertwining personal and professional lives as they have truly embraced Battambang as much more than a place of work, you can see in a heartbeat that this is their home, this is their life.
Under the hot southeast Asian sun, using what basic tools are available in rural Cambodia and navigating organisational and language barriers, we were quick to find out this was not going to be a walk in the park. We took an initial tour of the community to get a deeper understanding of the conditions that the people were enduring in their day to day life. One inspirational local woman shared with us her candid story of not being able to have her teenage daughter stay with her in their makeshift home in the bush due to fear of her safety and risk of sexual assault, she quipped bravely about the time during the rain season that their house flooded and her bed broke leaving her drenched in the middle of the night. These moving recounts are truly hard to imagine even when you are having them described first hand on location. Once we were able to get an understanding of what work needed to be completed in the coming days, there was no time to waste. The project work on day one involved repainting the main school block, outdoor classroom and bathroom. We were also lucky enough to be treated to a delicious feast of local food by Saveth’s wife and exposed to yet more of the happiest people you are ever likely to meet, made that much more impressive when you consider so many of these people have been through the most gross abuse and genocide in their lifetime.
The coming days would see us get stuck into more serious work as we helped to build brand new houses for 5 families who had been living under not much more than a tarpaulin previously and the development of bathroom facilities with running water for 5 further families who have never had these before. The work was tough, but infinitely rewarding. Helping someone with whom you share not a word of the same language to hammer each nail into each floorboard into his first real home, to see our team helping to plane and saw each bamboo beam that would make his roof, and to see our bond and communication develop over days of shared work and purpose was something that I will forever remember. Lots of sweat, laughs, smashed thumbs and tears later, and we had put the final sheets of cladding on the walls of the house, just in time for everyone to come together to unveil the first home in a humbling experience with the families of the community, local officials, a ceremonial monk blessing of the home and another gorgeous and generous Cambodian feast.
We were lucky enough to be able to provide some assistance to the broader community by donating half a tonne of rice to 12 families in need. Seeing the devastation that these people have experienced, the resilience they show and the unwavering smiles and positivity can have a profound impact on your perspective. Watching an 80+ year old woman refuse any help carrying a 25kg bag of rice on her shoulders with a beaming smile from ear to ear makes you think about what really is important in this life. For these people there is no work/life balance, it’s all survival, it’s all life, and though their worries are infinitely more real than many of us face in the western world, it would seem like anything but this was the case.
The final piece of our donation linked closely to the purpose of our organisation, our vision to change the world by empowering the leaders of today and creating the leaders of tomorrow starts from within our organisation, with our people and the opportunities we can help to provide them with, it extends to our customers who attend our events, our speakers who give up their time and ultimately who we donate on behalf of to this amazing cause. This project gave us an opportunity to help empower a leader of a very different kind, we have sponsored a scholarship for a young talented girl from our local community in Battambang to learn to teach English, so that she can learn and in turn pass on that learning to help this community to rebuild and develop far into the future. Our recipient Sreyrath has been writing to us since and it has been so rewarding to see her progress and enjoyment of the learning process, we are looking forward to having her along to one of our Women in Leadership events very soon.
Our relatively brief time was so full and the experiences were so rich, from playing football and games with the local children on the dusty football pitch, to Rachel and Victoria showing the children at the school how to make green goo, to our final Cambodian “delicacy” before we left from Saveth’s wife - BBQ Rat (quite delicious I might add), there was no question that our decision to not only donate to a good cause but to bring together friends, family, work and more and get involved at the deepest level was the perfect move.
If purpose is indeed what we seek, then how do we integrate the things that we truly care about into our professional realm, how do we achieve work-life integration and ultimately achieve the “good life” all wrapped up into one?
What makes me feel happy in my current day to day?
What could make me ridiculously happy in my life?
What gives me a sense of pride in my current day to day?
What could give me a massive sense of pride in my life?
How can I then feel happier and prouder more often every day?
How can my current personal and professional life work towards or help me to deliver a massive sense of happiness and pride?
Check out the video of our journey here...