Pride comes before a fall

Last year I blogged about change and how it’s often the most difficult thing for human beings to go through and late last year I wrote about changing my life and the many things I had changed on the way.

Following ideas with a passion may seem so easy when you start out on your journey, but what do you do when you realise you’re not on the right track, you’ve made some unwise decisions, that you may very well be wrong and the ideas you so passionately embraced are unsustainable. You say you’re wrong of course, or do you? The problem for many is that the second most difficult thing to do, is admitting defeat.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with a charity I love and supported whilst living in Europe. A charity with a successful concept, great success in Europe and one which they have already rolled out in Hong Kong. The question that the Hong Kong-based arm of the charity had, was why their European success story was not working as successfully in Asia?

After spending an hour walking through business plans, target audience, added value, profitability, etc, we realised a couple of things were different. The charity had not built the network in Asia that they had in Europe and they had become so focused on doing good in the community, that they’d forgotten how to run a profitable business. The charity is now taking some relatively easy steps to ensure a sustainable business model. The first step however was admitting that something was ‘broken’.

What do we do when the passion we had for ideas, people, places or things, wanes? It’s what we do with this knowledge that’s so important. Do we continue arrogantly, holding onto our old ideals, or do we swallow our pride, knowing that ultimately ‘Pride comes before a fall’. Whilst on the surface, it seems that pride doesn’t necessarily hinder success, I maintain that pride is every bit as destructive to anyone’s welfare as the the ancient proverb forewarns.

Creating the best school for the Netherlands and the world

I met Marcel Kampman recently. He was born, lives and works in a small town, 130 kms from Amsterdam, Meppel. This week I learned that Marcel is a father of two. His dream is that his children will be inspired to achieve brilliance by the teachers that teach them, the curriculum that they are taught and by the schools that they attend. A dream that I share for children around the world. But he also realises that this may be a pipe dream since it’s a scientific fact that children are far more creative at the age of 4, a whopping 98%; than at the age of 18, a depressing 2%. Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element: How finding your passion changes everything and TED talks reveal that schools actually stifle creativity instead of nurturing it. Seemingly, when we start school, we’re at our fullest potential but, each time we make choices, we leave ourselves fewer and fewer opportunities, which slims down our potential when we finally complete our education. “The more you choose, the more you lose.”

With this in mind, what if you could reinvent a school from scratch? What would you change? How would the technologies that reinvent education impact the construction and design of the building? How and what would you teach? Unlike many before him, Marcel Kampman has stood up to the challenge and Dreamschool Foundation and Project DreamSchool was born in the Netherlands. He’s now spreading the word at Lift and TED, gathering opinions and ideas and reinventing schools. Watch his presentation at Lift.

And, let’s face it, creating anything new in schools is a scary task. There’s that break with tradition and everything that’s governmental and bureaucratic. The project innovators of Dreamschool are ‘making it up as they go along’, since very little they think about, has been done before. They do have help from brilliant minds around the world though e.g. Sir Ken Robinson.

Am I curious as to where it will end up? Yes, sure I am! Do I believe it can work? Yes, I do. The biggest dreams start with the most ordinary people. What makes these people different, is that they dare to try. The stone age didn’t end due to a lack of stones you know. So, perhaps the age of classical education ends here! You can follow Marcel and the activities of Project Dreamschool on his website or you can follow him on twitter.

Who cares?

William Gardiner, homeopath, outside his botanical dispensary with his extended family. Care of Glen Gordon, my recently found extended family in New Zealand.
William Gardiner, herbalist, outside his botanical dispensary with his extended family. Care of Glen Gordon, my recently found extended family in New Zealand.
My Great great grandfather, William Gardiner.
My great-great grandfather, William Gardiner









My great-great grandfather, William Gardiner, was a herbalist in Scotland in the late 1800s. He owned botanical dispensary, not far from where my father was born.

Later my great grandfather, who had perhaps learned a few tricks from his father, ran a similar dispensary in Glasgow, albeit that he was not as practised as his father had been. The ‘shop’ was lit by gaslight and was rather dark. The walls behind the counter were lined with small wooden drawers filled with plants, herbs and spices in order to make the ‘potions and lotions’ of the day. My father and his sister were terrified to visit it as it was like stepping into the unknown. I can only imagine that the shop looked like something out of a Harry Potter film. I have vivid images of my great grandfather in a robe with white hair and a beard and resembling Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore. However, knowing the men in my family he probably looked more like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but unfortunately ladies, not quite as good looking.

I’m proud to say that my great-great grandfather’s daughter was smart enough to record his work. She had the common sense to realise that her father’s wealth of knowledge should be bound and published, and in 1904 “The working man’s guide to health by herbal remedies” was published; a book to be used long after my great-great grandfather had died. There is only one book that I know of in the family and it’s not in very good condition, given it has been used to treat patients through the ages. The book has been handed down from generation to generation through my family’s male lineage. So I’m not the book’s caretaker. That responsibility has been given to my brother and later will be his son’s.

Even today, medicine in all forms, whether homeopathic, alternative or traditional, is necessary in order to relieve pain or to save lives. While I was visiting Hope Village, an orphanage in Namibia, I met the CEO of the PharmAccess Foundation. It dedicates itself to the strengthening of health systems in sub-Saharan Africa with its ultimate goal to improve access to quality basic health care, including the treatment of HIV/AIDS. PharmAccess supports programs and offers services in the areas of healthcare insurance, workplace programs, health investments, health intelligence, etc.

Whereas common sense has meant that many patients have benefited from the knowledge in my great grandfather’s book, it’s the passion of employees of organisations like PharmAccess that help save lives today. Many more children in Africa would be born HIV positive and would not enjoy quality of life, were it not for the likes of PharmAccess. And, having seen for myself the work that they do, I can assure you, they do care!

The inspirational slippery path

As soon as you start living your dream, your dreams evolve.
I get my inspiration from many different sources. Whether it’s talking to people in my department, suppliers or even people on planes. Only this week I received an email, which I subscribe to from, which inspired me.

The time will come, Helen, and it will be sooner rather than later, when your greatest admirers and protégés will look at your life – your achievements, possessions (especially your fantastic charitable foundation), and passions – frown a little and sullenly say, “Yeah, but for you… it was easy.” At which point you should conceal any yearning you may possess to either object or laugh hysterically. Instead, lovingly look them square in the eye and say, “Yes, and it can be easy for you, too.”

It’s always been my belief that the stars were shining very brightly and very favourably  upon me when I was born, since, I’ve managed to achieve just about everything that I’ve wanted in my life. In South Africa they’d say that I’d ’landed with my bum in the butter’ . How this could be positive, is still quite strange to me. Well imagine this; me skidding along on a patch of slippery butter and oops……….. ; you get the picture and quite hilarious really. What I believe the idiom is really about, is that some people have the knack of speeding along and getting things done. These people are also willing to take all the risks necessary in order to succeed but are also willing to fail and when they do, they sometimes have a soft landing (in nice soft butter…at room temperature).

‘No’ doesn’t feature in my vocabulary and I don’t let anything get in the way of what I want to achieve. I am prepared to work hard for what I want though. In the words of Michael Jordan, ”I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

A few years ago I became involved with Hope Village in Namibia by coaching and mentoring the founder. Marietjie told me that she pays school fees for every child because if she doesn’t, these children are treated differently at school; as second-rate citizens. It’s her belief that by giving every child the same fighting chance in life that they can break the vicious circle that they are in, and eventually change their life and succeed. I’m a great believer in education. Not necessarily the classical educational system that we use today but, I believe in educating the next generation. I became inspired. I became a woman on a mission. I talked to a few people, convinced a few others, presented a plan and I was given the opportunity to set up a charitable foundation for Deloitte in the Netherlands.

In September 2010 we launched the Fair Chance Foundation which focuses on improving education for underprivileged children, aged 6 to 18. The Foundation is independent but is financed by Deloitte with money, people and knowledge.  I’m very proud of where we are today, of the fantastic partners that we support (JINC, IMC Weekendschool, Jong Ondernemen, Nibud Geldexamen) and my Foundation Manager, because without her very little would actually get done. Thanks Anne-Marie.

But, I’m still dreaming of even greater things, still inspired and still careering down my buttery slip n’ slide. So, “Yes, it can be easy for you too.” As long as you’re inspired, have a dream and are prepared for the slippery path ahead.