• Dr Nikki James

Lesson 4 - People want to help!


If I could draw you a picture of how I met all the people I have written about or intend to write about on this blog, it would look a lot like a spiders web. A complicated mess of fine, yet strong, strings that connect me to each person and many more I am yet to write about. Richard is one of the people in that spider's web. Meeting Richard is a story of happenstance, and it goes like this.


Once upon a time... (sorry! I could not resist)!


When I returned to Australia from my adventure in China - that one that didn't quite go to plan, I decided to leave my full-time job to pursue something I was passionate about. I didn't quite know what I was looking for, so it resulted in some rather interesting internet searches! During one random internet search, I stumbled upon the School for Social Entrepreneurs. The school was advertising its fellowship program that started in Australia the next month. It looked fun. I had no idea what a social entrepreneur was until that moment, but from what I could see, it was someone passionate about helping people but also had the business skills to do it sustainably. I liked the sound of it. And, I had nothing much else to do that day, so I applied.


The next day I got a phone call asking me to come to an interview for the program the next day! (wow. this was moving fast). Conveniently, the interview was being held five minutes from my office (in a random suburb that no one has heard of, 40 min outside of Sydney). Perfect.


So off I went on my lunch break the following day to an interview that I was not prepared for, with the idea that quite honestly I'd made up on the spot when I was filling in the application. But, they loved it. Well, they said they did anyway. Maybe they did not have enough people for the program, so they let everyone in. Or perhaps they did like my idea because I received a full scholarship to participate in the program starting the very next month. Evidently, my idea did not matter. It turns out the idea was a head fake. It was a way of getting task-orientated social entrepreneurs out of DOING mode and focused on developing their capacity so they could make more of an impact!


Day one of the program looked more like a press conference than the first day of school. There were members of parliament, business owners and media there to capture the story. Each of us, students with the shiny green name tags, were outnumbered at least three to one overwhelmed with people firing a million and one questions at us. When the fanfare died down, and class began, we all introduced ourselves. And that's where I met Jenni.

Jenni was 21 at the time, full of life, slightly jaded but a kindred spirit if there ever was one. Jenni and I grew close throughout that year of study together (more on Jenni later!). At the end of the year, Jenni attended another leadership training program that to put it lightly she fell IN LOVE with. Nine months later, she was still on cloud nine and trying to convince me to do the program too. At this point, I was settled in a full-time job that I loved. I was pretty happy with how my life was tracking. And, I'd already been on enough leadership training camps to sink a battleship. BUT talk about relentless!!! She would not let up. Every excuse I came up with she had an answer for, and in the end, she told me that if I did not fill in the application, she would do it for me.


In January, slightly against my will, I found myself sitting in a room with 25 other young people learning how to meditate. I think it took about 3 hours to fall in love with the program and even less to fall in love with the people. The retreat was a perfect combination of theory-based leadership knowledge and practical experiences. It allowed you to go as deep as you wanted to go in a safe environment. Anyhow, I finished the retreat and loved it so much that I attended coaching training that year. Fast forward 12 months and I'm back at the retreat as a coach! And, that's where I met Richard.


The first time we met was on a group Skype call. You know the ones, the ones where everyone keeps cutting in and out, and nothing gets achieved—one of those. The day we met in person was the Friday night right before the program began. All the coaches and a few others decided to go out to 'get to know' each other so we could attempt to unite and pull together this program and collaborate as if we'd worked together for years!

So, where do you go when you have people coming from around the world to Sydney. That's right Opera Bar!!! After wandering, I found our group! Sascha grabbed my arm and said, "You have to meet Richard!" She promptly dragged me to the other end of the table while blabbering something about "you guys are so similar, you are going to get along great!" Then, thrust me face-first into the arms of an unsuspecting Englishman.


When someone says to you that you are going to get along great with someone, the expectation tends to lift, and then you get disappointed when the person does not meet those expectations. But not with Richard. If anything Sascha underestimated just how well we would get on. To the point that 1.5hrs later, she had to interrupt our conversation to introduce Richard to one of the other coaches. They'd been there for an hour and failed to break into our conversation after several attempts. Oops.


That night, our conversation went around the world. We chatted about my experience in China, his in Africa and on to our disgruntled experience working in a large developed country NGO's. We traversed our shared passion for Social Enterprise and its capacity to make a change in the world and our desire to help people make their ideas a reality. Few... You would think that would have been an exhausting encounter... But I left feeling energised and ready to go out and change the world!!!


The retreat came and went. Throughout the week, I had learned about a place in Tanzania called Kigamboni Community Centre (KCC). Richard had been working there for 18months and would be heading back there to continue his work. To say that Richard loved KCC, what it was all about and its people was an understatement. In parallel, he was voicing his frustration with how things worked in Tanzania. There was a lack of understanding of sustainability. No doubt a byproduct of the endless supply of aid money! And the lack of training that would give the KCC directors the skills they needed to make their vision a reality.


I had not even been to this place or met these people. But through his stories, I fell in love with them too. The leaders of KCC didn't have a lot, but what they did have were TIME and SKILLS, and they were willing to share! They saw history repeating itself in their community, as kids were in the same predicament they'd been in 10-15 years ago and were compelled to do something about it. They didn't have money, but they did skills that they could pass on. So they just went for it. They made it happen.


In one conversation, Richard and I worked out that we had attended the School for Social Entrepreneurs in the very same year, just on other sides of the world. Richards vision for KCC was to set up a social entrepreneurs training school in Tanzania. I was hooked. And I wanted in. We spend the morning after the retreat capturing the vision on a blank piece of paper. Everyone knows all good business ideas start over coffee and result in a napkin full of ideas!


Little did I know that meeting would change the course of my life! The immediate impact was:

  1. A weekly Skype meeting to work on this project together

  2. A trip to Tanzania in June to help launch the training program

Woah! My life just got SUPER full!!! The long term impact, a new career in education technology, a doctorate and an opportunity to speak into a conversation about education at a critical point in history! But more on that later...


Over the next five months, Richard and I worked on this idea determined to get it off the ground. The biggest lesson I learned from him through this process was to ask for and accept help. I know what you're thinking - someone who has a heart for helping people like me would be a natural at this. Right. Wrong. I didn't.


I felt like my purpose for being on this earth was to help people but that I had to do it myself. Maybe HAD TO is the wrong way to think about it. It was more like 'how could I ask someone else to help when they get nothing out of it?'. But Richard had a different perspective. When we were discussing challenges, we were facing; we looked for solutions in very different places. I was looking within at the skills and knowledge we had to solve the problem. But he was looking outside to his network - his friends, family and people in Tanzania that might want to get involved. I can't sit here and say he executed those thoughts and got all those people on board, but just the fact that he looked to the world to help him achieve his goal fascinated me. I wanted to do the same. I no longer wanted to be an island unto myself. I wanted to reach out to the world for support, for ideas, and to help make my dream a reality.


Over the next few months and beyond, I watched Richard gain what he needed by asking for help with humility, integrity and passion. I tried to mimic what I saw. Instead of acting like I could work it out myself (knowing I could not), I started looking to the people I knew for help, advice and insight.


We live in an information age. We can find ALL the information we need from our good friends Siri, Google and Alexa. But, we also have access to another network. A network, when asked, that will not just give you a bunch of generic answers that you have to filter into your circumstances but give it to you with a side of empathy and encouragement. A network that will listen to your situation and apply their knowledge to not only offer insight but practical help. PEOPLE. Yes. PEOPLE.


It was while I was working with Richard that I added a new discipline to my life! Asking for help! The funny thing is, I did not have to do a lot of asking. As I began sharing my story and the work I was doing, people offered to help before I even asked. People WANTED to help. I realised that all those years I had not been asking I was robbing people of their opportunity to get involved in helping people. I can't say that every request has been answered with an affirmative response, but I can honestly say that even the no's have been graceful and often followed with a, BUT this guy can help you.


So, long story short, the lesson is this - if you are trying to get something done in the world, reach out and ask for help! People will love it, and you will have a spiders web of people to catch you if you happen to fall.

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