Looking back, looking forward
This New Year we’ve been reflecting on the journey of The Dragonfly Collective and why we set it up. It was back in 2011 that we first sat in a café and came up with the idea. We were working in a large NGO in Australia, and we were frustrated and restless. We were passionate about creating a world where everyone had the same freedoms and opportunities as everyone else. We had an unquenched thirst for making a real impact.
Three hours, two coffees and one cupcake later we had a business plan written on a napkin for a new social venture that we could use to support others to enhance their impact, and design social change projects of our own. We launched in January 2012, and spent that year supporting NGOs and social enterprises in Australia to create justice for homeless people, people with disabilities, unemployed people and asylum seekers. But by the end of that year, we were still restless.
So in 2013 we decided to take a risk and make a change. We signed up for a Masters in Social Innovation based in Vienna, sold most of what we owned, packed our lives into two suitcases and spent four months travelling to 24 cities in 12 countries across Africa, Europe, North America, South America and Central America.
From the dusty and vibrant streets of Africa, to the charm of tiny cobblestone laneways in Europe, to the warm breeze blowing over the Caribbean coast. From hostels and spare rooms at friends places, to a tent pitched high in the Andes, to beach resorts. From the capital of the most powerful nation in the world, to the vast expanse of the Serengeti and the snow-covered peaks of Norwegian fjords.
It was a year of discovery, exploration and most importantly, learning.
We’ve learnt that a sense of community really matters, not only for individuals at a personal level, but also for driving change.
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how much is enough, and working out what that means for us. How to live simply and live well. How to find a balance between restraint and excess.
We’ve learnt about appreciating difference. About meeting new people ‘in-between’ cultures, without normative expectations, and with an enquiring mind, open to learning what they might have to teach (and we’ve learnt that everyone is a teacher).
We’ve learnt that taking a risk can stretch you, but it’s worth it.
But the most obvious lesson was that the human drive to ‘do good’ is universal – across cultures, languages, backgrounds and oceans. There are people all over the world with enormous motivation to fix systems that don’t work, to make sure others are taken care of, to ensure equity of access to the basic necessities of life.
We met people like Vikki in Tanzania, who after suffering 67% burns and losing a leg in a gas bottle explosion, took her nursing skills to a remote African village to help others. We met Michael in Vienna, who left a well-paid job to start Vollpension, a café that provides employment opportunities for older women on the pension. And we met an Italian, a Romanian, a German, a Swiss, and a Mexican in the Masters in Social Innovation, who each in their own way are working to make the world a better place. We have discovered in different places ordinary everyday people who are not just living their lives in a bubble, but are passionate about creating opportunities to heal the earth, care for people and change the world.
Looking ahead to 2014, we plan to take our learning to London and explore opportunities to setup our first UK project later this year.
We still have the napkin we scribbled on in the café the day we came up with the idea for The Dragonfly Collective. It’s a reminder for us that if you’re passionate about your vision, there is no beginning too small.
We hope 2014 brings inspiration, passion and opportunities for learning and action for all the change-makers working to create a better world for others.
There is a Chinese proverb we love that says: “those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it”. Don’t let others interrupt you from following a dream, taking a risk and changing the world (even just a small part of it).
Happy change-making in 2014!