When it comes down to actually doing things, what does it take? I believe it is the most important question among many. What it takes for people to be wishing for better but one person to start putting them together. After having traveled literally around the Globe and having interviewed over 30 active doers in places from Japan to Guatemala to India, I have come to one major answer to the question I put above – it takes courage and inspiration. But it is also about a universal belief in a better life, into a justice, a feeling that “who if not me”. And no matter which corner of the World you live, these people like “sparks” are everywhere, you recognize them by shining eyes and an action plan at hand. They first do, then look back and analyze, because they do something that most probably nobody have done before. That something can anything from building tetrapak houses for people who live the slams, to going on a wild-sea odyssey to record and probably save some unique marine species. There is another uniting factor – they love the place where they live, and they have that sense of awareness which brings a level of entitlement for social responsibility to take action.
Here in Kazakhstan we are living a very interesting period, we are witnessing a transformational process of total change – from a Soviet republic to a so-called democracy, from a planned to a market economy, from a controlled to a participatory society. Despite all possible disadvantages of the time, there is one major benefit – we learn fast to change. It probably can be compared to a forced immigration from North Korea to US, with a huge mental turnaround and a need for survival. Kazakhstan is the 9th largest in territory country with only 17 million population, half of which is urbanized, 99% of all are educated. Minerals and natural resources are the major source of national GDP. However, for what I believe the social capital is the only viable potential for growth.
From my experience of active citizen engagement which for the past 5 years I was enveloping with the TEDx movement in Kazakhstan, I came to understanding that all people want change, but very few actually get to do something. Those “sparkling eyes” few. But it is just critically important to make first few steps, to publicly declare your intentions, just enough for those who are tuned to the same frequency to hear, and they will. Those intentions in my city range from making it bike-friendly to saving the ecologically endangered mountains plato from destruction. They, intentions, once heard soon turn into the movements uniting thousands of people. The exponential effect is however built-up if the step is not just one, it requires constituency backed up by strong belief. I remember that even 5 years ago people here have not heard about TEDTalks at all, and today we have full house for TEDxAlmaty and another dozen of TEDx events across the region.
Interestingly people are sometimes hard to unite around a ‘superficial’ idea of nationality. But how much easier people unite around the idea of a ‘home’, a place, a city, however they call it. Even on a global level, it is cities which compete for talent, not countries. So the ‘city’ as an environment becomes the epitome for self-realization, it competes with the opportunities for the talent to do it best. On this perspective, the quality of the citizen eco-system with all the hard and subtle institutionalization around it, has the dominant disposition among other prerequisites for the communities to develop and cities to thrive, and the quality comes from the quality of the idea. The ideas compete based on values, the value comes back on different levels: from survival to self-realization, to doing good for humanity. Eventually, the community eco-system which embodies the ‘goodest’ values is competing best.
So my take and my call to anybody with the shining eyes and good intentions at heart – make the few first steps. And keep on making them until you meet right people to create your own ‘world’, your own ‘neighborhood’, your own ‘community’, eventually creating a better place for all. In this journey try meeting as diverse people as possible, and do not forget mixing them all, mashing up folks from tech, art, business, public and civil institutions, academicians and journalists. Make the most of the ideas emerging in these interactions, be prepared that some might fail. Make your own hypothesis about how your ‘world’ should be like, and try proving or even disproving it, until you make it work. The bigger World is so fast changing, that there is no ‘ready-to-use’ scenario. Make it your own.