Aryae: Mike, thank you so much for your time. Welcome to the Awakin Call.
Mike: Thank you very much. Thank you Trishna and thank you Aryae. Well, welcome to you from London. In fact, very near land's end. It's nearly the end of the known world.
Aryae: Sounds wonderful. If I look out from here over the Pacific and through a couple of continents, I can almost see you over there.
Aryae: I'd like to start off with kind of today about the Rainmaker Foundation. Can you tell us a little more about the Rainmaker Foundation and what are some of the main activities that you're up to right now?
Mike: Well, we started it about 4 years ago, in January of 2012. The meaning was to create a community of people who were dedicated others and making change and bring them together regularly in events and so forth, and introduce them at the same time to people who are real change makers, i.e., the people who had started wonderful causes all over the world. A complete variety of leaders and inspirational cases. Basically what we do is we introduce one lot, i.e. people who have the resources, be it money or time or skills or talent, to the people who run these all over the world. They help them. In simple language it is a mixture between inspiring one lot on one hand and matchmaking on the other. Last year, for example, we were able to help over 100 charities throughout the world, which do all sorts of things -- helping to ease front line poverty in the U.K., trafficking, human rights, the environment, property in India, conservation, almost everything you can imagine. It's a very broad sweep. The secret is to inspire the people to help the people who are creating change. That's what we do.
Aryae: It just strikes me, listening to you describe this again, Mike, of just what a highly leveraged activity this is that by introducing these people to each other you're facilitating change in so many places and so many ways.
Mike: Well, that's true. What's most interesting is that it only needs a few people to latch on. Recently we took part in a private lunch in London to support a woman who was campaigning to eliminate FGC. Seventeen people turned up. Six of them were Rainmakers. This wonderful woman, called Julia, who had started it, had given up her career to start this campaign to eliminate FGC. They all came together.
Aryae: What is FGC?
Mike: Female Genital Cutting.
Mike: Oh, yes. Female genital mutilation, in Africa and things like that. It's not an easy subject to talk about or to raise money for. Seventeen of these people raised something like a hundred and forty thousand pounds and offered their talents, went on the board, and this sort of thing for a particular woman to do her work. I think it sums up it. One of our donors said, "There are things that you want to see done in the world and values that you hold dear, things that you really care about, but you actually haven't got the time or the talent or skills to actually do anything. What you can do is you can find people who are making real difference in the world and you can support them." That's such a good way of working. I'm sure that a huge number of the service space community do this already. Basically I'm just another cog in the wheel, really. I try and find groups of people to support wonderful causes all over the world.
Aryae: I'm curious, when you started the Rainmaker Foundation -- the Rainmakers are people who are the donors -- where did you find them? How did you find them? How do you bring them together?
Mike: Well, it's sort of an evolution, really -- from my background running Whiz Kids. There was a story about how I first discovered people's natural generosity, really, but when I did, it started with kids and then we did succession planning and handed it on to someone else to run, which they're doing very well and I sort of was gathering knowledge of other charities and donors and so on. Then I started advising individuals and companies about how to give the most to charities. Then I wrote a book, first ever book I wrote about generosity, which is called Please Take One Step, which was given away free to all the people who attended a Ted Global Conference in Oxford in 2010.
Because it was just after the financial crash, Ted's a famously sort of thought leadership organization and the thought that you should lead a generous life became almost like rocket science in the context of the crash and what had happened in there. I basically, I learned it up with what was then I called my Blackberry. It had about 50 people I knew who had resources, not just money but mainly money and on the other hand about 30 or 40 charities that I knew really well. I knew the founders of them. The book went down so well that we created Rainmaker and then you know, lots and lots of people became enthusiastic about helping and joined the community, so they introduced each other.
We discovered all sorts of other charities that they wanted to help throughout the world and so it just grew. Now it's got a couple hundred people who are useful, if you like and a couple hundred charities all around the world that we help.
Aryae: It sounds like you basically persisted in doing what you cared about doing in reaching out to people through different channels and over time this community came together.
Mike: Yes, that's right. I mean, I think that people who, particularly in the world, so you can help people and we've got lots of stories in the book about you can be generous and help other people in many, many, many ways but my particular aspect in starting Rainmaker was to encourage people who had done really well in life and had got quite enough, famous sort of Mike expression, to get a grip and help people who were less fortunate than themselves.
It just happens to be an inspired idea, if you introduce people who've done quite well in life, who are successful but not necessarily significant, if you introduce them to people who are literally trying to save the environment or helping the poverty in India or getting people off death row, whatever you're doing, if you introduce people to each other, it's just extraordinary what happens because nine out of ten times they become inspired by each other. That's the powerful thing.
Aryae: Yeah, yeah, that really sounds powerful indeed and I'm very much struck, as you describe the Rainmakers, the extraordinarily successful people who you are kind of leading to from being successful to also being significant, I'm struck by how much this does for them as well as for the recipients of the donations. I'm wondering if you can give us one or two examples of these successful people who as a result of connecting with the change makers really experience change in their own lives?
Mike: Well I can probably carry on until about 9:00 tonight doing that.
Aryae: I bet.
Mike: Specifically, one very nice friend of mine, he's a senior UK businessman and he did quite well, got an amount of money, put it into a charitable foundation which he runs with his daughters and proceeded to distribute it. He is distributing some every year, but there was one story which we spoke about before where he and his daughter, who's a doctor, came across a disabled family that had a disabled child. The donor, a friend of mine called Crispin, said to this family, said to the mother, "Well, what do you do?"
She said, "Well, I used to be a teacher but I had to give it up to look after my disabled child 24 hours a day, seven days a week." Crispin and his daughter, they were very moved by this story, so to cut a long story short, after several weeks and more conversations, they decided to give the family a holiday once a year and to provide a caretaker one day a week for this family so that the mother had one day off a week. This sort of revolutionized and changed her life. It gave her one day a week of respite, I suppose, and Crispin was telling me this story.
He said, you know we were reviewing our foundation's work at the end of the year and we came to the conclusion this was by far the most powerful thing we've done all year and it cost them all of 5,000 pounds. Put against philanthropy money, it's not much at all. It's a small amount and a lot of thought and a lot of care to help a family who are having a hard time. I think that's a wonderful story.
Then we've got another husband and wife team. The husand works in a hedge fund and they're clients of ours and three years ago they asked us to find three charities, five charities in the north of England run by heroes that were terribly small and helping young people living in poverty in the north of England. That was specific. The charities had to be little, very, very small. They had to be run by heroes and they had to be engaged in helping disadvantaged young people. We went through process and eventually this couple gave five different very small organizations 100,000 pounds over three years, i.e. 30,000 pounds a year per year and they gave each of them 100,000 pounds so that was 500,000 pounds.
They gave them basically, by giving them, each individual charity 100,000 over three years, they were basically underwriting a salary or covering the cost of a new project. These were very, very small organizations and wonderful, wonderful organizations as well, which of course we've all visited and we've all supported since. That's an example of people again channeling their money into front line small activities run by people who are doing fabulous work.
Aryae: It sounds like what these two examples have in common is that as a result of channeling their money into these activities it also brought them into personal contact with people who were doing the work, who were benefiting from the work and that opened up and enriched their lives.
Mike: Definitely and of course studies, that Helen Steiner writes, "The more you give the more you get." This is one of the not so secret things about helping other people. By helping other people in any way, particularly if you happen to see them or meet them, it deeply enriches your life and it stops you battering on about how, what a tough life you've got and all the rest of the nonsense that goes with it, you know. While you're concentrating on helping others, you can hardly worry too much about your own miserable existence.
Aryae: Yes. Now I also, another project in which you're currently involved is the same name as your book and it's also a website, Our Generosity Gene, so besides being about your book can you tell us a little bit about what Our Generosity Gene is and what you do through that project?
Mike: Well, the secret of that is that it dawned on me, it sort of morphed really, it sort of came of me that actually we are all naturally generous. Now literally I've had a window on this for several years but it came to me that we are all naturally generous and that, it turns out that all the civilizations from the times of Confucius, you know, literally Confucius wrote about this sort of thing, African tribes and societies, Amazon tribes and all of major faiths in the world, they all have two key common links and the first is they all have a version -- literally all of them -- of the Golden Rule, which is to do unto others as you would want to be done by, to treat other people as you would like to be treated.
The other central teaching they have, and this is completely across the board, is that they all insist on an obligation, that you have an obligation to help people who are less fortunate than yourself. This common teaching is not something that I dreamt up. We are all naturally generous, and what's happened over the last few decades is we've all been driven completely witless by being told that we must be independent, we must be self sufficient and all of that, as opposed to being interdependent and collaborating and living together, which is what across all these societies and other societies too, we used to work together, look after each other.
In addition to that, we've all been persuaded that we must buy everything that moves and we must accumulate stuff. We've become marketed at, we've become driven by materialism, and we've forgotten that we're much better together, in a service-based community. I mean, there are thousands of service-based community that get this, but what's happened is this natural generosity, this natural need to help other people and desire to help other people has been derailed.
Working together and collaborating and playing together and looking after each other is the best way to look after and to solve the real challenges that we face today, not by worrying ourselves about our own ways and not by buying in on these quantities of stuff that we don't really need and don't really want and don't even use half the time.
Mike: The book is an appeal to get back and inspire people, to help other people and to recognize that they can.
Aryae: When you use the term "generosity gene," or as you also say in your book, "empathy is built into our DNA," do you mean that literally? Do you mean that is actual gene in our DNA or are you using that as a metaphor?
Mike: Well, it's a phrase to describe what I think is our natural status quo before everybody went bonkers. We are naturally generous and we have been for thousands of years. We are looking after other people and helping other people, it is part of our DNA. It was just being taught so much by so many people. I was up in the Amazon, interviewed at the Amazon recently, and it's striking how when you visit small communities up there, they work as a community, they all look after each other, and yes, they're all unbelievably happy. They're not driven by this desire to have things, and they all look after each other.
It's the same in Africa -- the African phrase "ubuntu," has no English equivalent, but Ubuntu means that we are who we are through other people. We are better ourselves through other people. We need other people to make us the best we can be.
This is, I believe, our common state. Actually, this is the sort of character status that we need to solve most of the problems that we face today.
Aryae: If generosity is so inherent in human nature and so inherent in indigenous societies, in early societies, then how did we get so bonkers, as you say, in Western civilization and in liberal capitalist, global economy that we have today? What has pulled us away from our natural nature?
Mike: Well, again, I probably have to write another book on that, and I probably won't. But I think the marketing and advertising to buy all sorts of stuff and be better off and buy bigger cars and bigger houses and borrow money and buy more clothes and all that. The materialistic and the advent in marketing, which is based on persuading us we all need to get more and to get debts and loans. I think that's a big factor in derailing everybody.
We used to work with each other to solve problems. I don't know, you can never get away, you can never say, well, what about the wars in the world, what about the people that behave really badly, etc? You can only decide what you're going to do about it and which side you're on.
When I started with kids, I did it as a result of a dare. I started the charity, and it's now 25 years old and it's taken a hundred million and helped 20,000 children who can't move. When I did it, I thought that was unique heroic behavior. It was only as I got a bit older that I realized that there were probably 1 million people plus all over the world who have created enterprises and causes for good, whether it's helping feed people in India or whether it's getting people out of jail.
While media focuses enormously on everything that's wrong with the world, obviously, there are huge, ginormous quantities of people out there in the world working to make it a much better place. I don't think it's probably an exception. I thought I was heroic and then discovered there were millions more like me.
Aryae: What a wonderful discovery.
Mike: It is.
Aryae: You're not alone, right? I think that so many of us discover, in ServiceSpace, our own impulses to want to help in whatever humble ways we can. That, oh my God, there are thousands who've been doing this for two decades already and I can join the party. I want to ask you this. Okay, so here we are, we humans have the natural instinct to be generous, to want to help others. Many of us are living in a world, in a civilization where all the messages we get are look out for number one, it's all about me, I've got to be individually successful. If I am in this kind of environment and I want to cultivate that generosity gene in myself, what do you recommend to people to get started in this direction?
Mike: From my experiences, it's something everybody recognizes and everybody feels much better. If they're having a bad day themselves and someone comes up and puts an arm around them and gives them a hug, they realize they're on the receiving end of somebody caring about them. The shortest answer is to begin with your family and friends, think about the hard times they're having. Give them a ring, go and see them, take them out for coffee. Ask them how they are. Do something dangerously original like listen to them. It's a question of getting a grip. There are so many people around doing wonderful things, and I'm sure the ServiceSpace community is completely awash with people do small acts of kindness. What's that wonderful line from the Talmud? To save one life is as if you had saved the world.
Mike: I think people just need to be cheered up and encouraged to do it, and they'll find their own ways. It doesn't involve money. My mother, is another lovely story. She got to her 90's living alone in a village in England, and there was a man, a young man, who used to come up -- he'd been coming up for 25 years -- to do her garden when my father was alive. Terry. He was probably one of the worst gardeners in the world.
He wasn't a gardener at all, but he was very good, he came up and mowed the lawn, and so when my father died, my mother got very old, Terry, a village boy who hardly out of the village, came up to see my mother twice a day to make sure she was safe. Choose her television program. Fill up her hot-water bottle, make sure she was all right. He did this everyday for four years. Every single day. Several times I said to him, "Terry, forget about the garden. You're doing something which is quite astonishing. You're being incredibly kind to my mother and I'm very grateful". She was, of course, deeply grateful, and he refused to take any money. Refused to have anything to do with it. He just said that he was very fond of my mother and he wanted to look after her.
That's a wonderful act of generosity. Then when she died, he said that he'd looked after her because he wanted to help her because he loved her. That's generosity without wanting anything. He wouldn't take anything. He was just being Terry. No money. He never gave her any money, and he didn't need to give her any money. He was just being wonderfully generous.
Aryae: What a wonderful example of Terry, a simple gardener, who can teach us how to do this. I'd like to go back 25 some odd years, of you meeting this disabled kid and then running the marathon. That's well known now. I'm curious to hear one layer down in depth about that story, Mike, if you would like to share with us a little bit about what your life was like before meeting this boy, and then what are some of your most vivid memories today of what happened meeting the child, your decision to run a marathon, and what you did immediately after the marathon.
Mike: If you describe me aged 40, when I ran the marathon, I was basically very ambitious and I was running a business, and I was focused on business and making a profit, and I was terribly busy, and terribly self important, and basically not frightfully nice, really. I probably was nicer than I think, but I didn't really have much of an altruistic bone in my body. When we decided to run this marathon, I went up to see, to meet this little girl actually, who had cerebral palsy, and I went to meet her at her home and I'd never met a young woman with cerebral palsy in my life before, and she was 12, and she had a very severe speech impediment and she couldn't move without being moved around by her grandmother. She was 12 and I was just profoundly moved by the experience. I came back to London and I got the friend I was running the marathon with, and we decided that we would do something mildly heroic -- run 26 miles to provide mobility for a child who couldn't move at all.
We never trained enough or anything. I'd run six miles before we started, but we got to the start line and some people even sponsored us crossing the start line, and we set off into the distance with no hope, no idea of what we were doing at all, and we finished. I finished in six-and-a-half hours, but we raised nine-and-a-half-thousand pounds and we bought this young girl a pad wheelchair, and then we have it delivered to her, and she could move. She could go round her school, she could go round her shops, she could go round her home. She could whiz about, in simple language, and we were as stunned as she was. We say that it helped change her life, but it completely transformed us because with no knowledge of what we were doing, again, we started a children's charity (with my wife), and the rest, as they say, is history.
I, then, began to notice that persuading people to help children who couldn't move. They all got as much joy out of it as the family and the child who got the equipment, and that led onto this journey when I realized that what Helen Steiner Rice wrote about was completely true. I became a more civilized person as time went on.
Aryae: I see. However, my understanding is that, besides becoming a more civilized person, you also brought some of your business skill and experience with you with kids. One of the things that I noticed when I first went onto the Whizz-Kidz website is that there was no mention of Mike Dickson. You were totally invisible, and I thought, why is that? I'm wondering if you can share with us a little bit about your philosophy of leadership and how that has come into play in what you're doing now.
Mike: Whizz Kidz was basically, it was managed as close as possible to the model of servant leadership. That's basically the idea that the person who is in charge, or the founder, provides the values and the vision of the organization and then make sure that the people who are actually doing the work have everything they need to do the work properly.
The other thing is that success is creating something where you can hand it over to another group of people to run and grow. After ten years of running Whizz-Kidz, for example, we got the most wonderful new chief exec in, who had business experience and was herself in a wheelchair, and had been brought up in a children's home, and she's taking it onto another level.
I'd just done the same thing with Rainmaker, we got a brand new chief executive who's a very successful woman; she's 37 years old, she's great. She's going to take it on and grow it, and so when you're creating things, some people are really good at creating things, but when they get to the stage where they need to grow, they need other talents, other skills, and so on. What I've done is focus on starting several different organizations but then doing succession planning and handing them over to others to grow, because, to be brutally frank, I wouldn't be any good at doing it anyway. There are different skill sets needed, but also I think success is something that when you've created something that exists without you. You have the values and the vision of what you're doing.
I get rung up occasionally, asked to go and give a speech or something, but it's not about me. It's about how well the organization functions to help to save more children move. It's not part of my [Mike CV 00:40:53]. Well, it is. It's not important. It's not an ego trip and neither is Rainmaker. Rainmaker is not about me, it's about something that I helped to create that's doing quite well. Success is getting them all to inspire each other, to help each other.
Aryae: This is a very important feature of your management philosophy that success is not about me, it's about them. I'm wondering once you have found younger leaders who have the energy and the desire to move forward on your vision, what role do you see for yourself as the older? Do you continue to have a relationship with them? If so, what is that like?
Mike: Yes, I do. I mean, I do, but increasingly less. With Whiz Kids, I see the chief executive 3 ties a year maybe just for a meal or coffee, or a chat. With Rainmaker, the young woman has taken over. I'll be a sort of honorary good thing for about another year. Then, she'll be flying solo. I think the important thing for a founder of anything is to as I say at the beginning, is to impart how you expect a leader to behave and what you think the vision is. Then, passes on for people to re-energize them and re-evaluate it and so forth. I think you're responsible for creating it, and you're responsible for its DNA and choosing great people to take it on to another level, and it works.
Aryae: Through Rainmaker and through what you've done, you've dealt with people who deal with charities. You've dealt with the heads of charities that require fundraising and whose work gets fed by a flow of money. My question to you would be, from what you've seen, how is it that people in that kind of role can provide for their organizations, get the job done, without becoming obsessed by the need to continually get more and more money.
Mike: Well, funding, yeah, it's a number 1 issue for organizations that are trying to do great work all over the world. Whether they're trying to sell tigers, save tigers, or whether they're trying to save people. There is a wonderful TED talk by a guy called Simon Sinek, which is about how great leaders inspire and basically the most important thing is to concentrate on the why. Why the organization exists. Soon as it concentrates on the how and the what, it sort of becomes doomed. You need the organization to focus on why they're doing it and to always have that up front.
Put another way. Philanthropists, people who are backing charities, giving money away, all of them, 100% of them, they always look for someone who is inspirational running something that they firmly believe in. Critically, they look for someone who is committed to finishing the job, to doing the work. Almost uniquely, they're not remotely interested in how to do it. In other words, I haven't put that quite as clearly as I meant. People who are backing organizations look for inspirational leadership, and people who are determined to do it. They don't have to know how to do it, so they don't have to know how to lead PR campaigns and digital media campaigns and all the rest of the mumbo-jumbo, because you can get everybody to do that, but you can't buy inspiration, and you can't buy determination to finish it.
Aryae: Very interesting. The key is the inspired leader who's inspired to do the work regardless of what's under the hood of the organization. It sounds like perhaps such an organization needs 2 types of leaders. It needs the leader who is focused and obsessed with the why, and the other leaders who are paying attention to the how.
Mike: Yeah. It's why succession planning is so important, is that you quite often some of the people who are passionate about their cause, they don't actually ever leave. That sometimes stops an organization growing. By the same token, lots of people who are the reason that an organization exists. One stage or another, they have to build in really strong management and systems in order for their organization to grow. Again, if we had until 9:00, I could list 50 people I know who run wonderful organizations all over the world and the work they do. They're doing it because of the passion. They are actually for what it's worth, they're all entrepreneurs, but they're just not doing it for money. They're doing it to change people's lives.
Aryae: You've had plenty of experience with organizations that run by fundraising, and you've also had experience with organizations and individuals who function on a gift economy. You've spent time with Trishna and Nipun and you know how ServiceSpace functions on a gift economy. From your seat, as you look at things, what do you see as perhaps both similarities and differences the way it looks to you between traditional philanthropies and organizations or communities like ServiceSpace that are in the gift economy space?
Mike: Well, I think if you were to take a sort of semi-circular arc, I think it's all part of the same thing. Persuading people, persuading philanthropists to give some of the money they've earned through their business, entrepreneurial efforts and works for good causes is one end. Persuading people to do simple everyday acts of generosity and kindness for their family, friends, people they don't even know is part of the same thing. There are hundreds of organizations in the world that are focused on encouraging people to do good. I think it's complimentary, and I think the work that of all the people in service space do on a daily basis. I've had the pleasure of attending Trishna's Circles in London. I mean, it's just incredible. What they do by opening their homes and most importunately, their hearts, to people is just remarkable. It's wonderfully, wonderfully touching. Nipun, again, is another character out of the block really. Isn't he? I mean, he's amazing. He's doing the same thing. He's encouraging people to look after other people and that's what we're all supposed to be doing.
Aryae: It sounds like from your point of view, we're all on the same team.
Mike: Well, I think it's no doubt about it at all and that's why it's really important to do conversations and to work together and to share great stories and successes and so forth so that we can encourage more people to be useful.
Trishna: You said looking after each other is the best way we can look after ourselves and be generous. I think that's something you do so effortlessly and naturally and it's been wonderful to hear a lot about the ways that you have inspired so many others to support charities that you know and to come together to help these charities make an impact in the world. Even, I remember coming to your book launch for Our Generous Gene and while a lot of book launch events are probably about the author and it's about the journey of that book and how is it going to go out there and make an impact in the world, Mike's book launch event was so unique. His book launch event was about bringing his friends together, so he did this very small personal, private book launch with his friends essentially, who he actually wanted to get together. It was beautiful Mike, to see that the purpose for you of the book launch, so much of it was to introduce your friends. I mean, I remember how many different people you came and said, I really want you to meet this person to talk about this to. It was amazing.
Mike: Thank you very much.
Trishna: You do it so naturally. You're such a natural glue to communities, I think.
Mike: That's really kind of you.
Trishna: It really inspired me -- how you personally walk your talk. I mean, it's one thing to write books about what people can do to be generous in their lives and it's another thing to be so generous in your own life. I wondered if you could share a little bit about your own kind of personal practices of being the change yourself. What are some of these small things you do in your day to day life to be generous, because I think, I know I've asked you this before and I'd love for the callers to hear more about it as well, because it's so beautiful. You run these massive organizations that make massive impact and it'd be great to get that insight into what you do personally day to day to be the change.
Mike: Goodness gracious. Well, I mean, Friday two weeks ago, I'd asked a group of friends to help another friend that was having a hard time and they'd all done it and so on Friday in the morning I had sent out an email to tell them that it had been a success. So this is practical behavior to help someone who was having a hard time. Somebody rang me up, my next door neighbor rang up to say that her sister was around and was looking to get into the charity world and could I see her? Well I said I could either do it on Friday or I can do it on week after I get back from holiday, it turned out to be on Friday. This extremely elegant and attractive woman turned up who turned out to be 37 and she was a foreign correspondent for Al Jazeera and goodness knows who else. She was very elegant and very normal and we talked and we spoke about getting into the charity world and it turned out that she'd had three strokes in the last year, one of which had brought her to a halt and she'd had to learn how to speak and how to walk again. Then another friend of mine rang up and said that somebody else we knew was having a very hard time because their husband had very serious cancer and she was pregnant and they were having to move out of their home and he was going to see her and he'd ring me back and let me know what we could do about it. On next week, the three of us will set out to try and help her in practical ways.
I mean, I could go on really, but it goes on every day. The issue is that one of the most important things from all this is (a) being open to helping people and (b) trust. They've got to know they can trust you.
Trishna: You hold space in your heart for everyone and anyone. You'll have this totally crazy diary of stuff going on and someone calls on you and you'll make time for them. you'll tell me these stories when we meet and it's like, oh you know, this is all going on and then someone got in touch and I made time to meet them or call them or see them or speak to them or whatever it is that might support them. I think it's really those small acts that you kind of sprinkle throughout your day regardless of how busy you are.
Mike: Well it's interesting because you rememer Satish Kumar and how he said that he would always make time for anybody. He had a full day, he had to eat, he had to do his meditation, he did his gardening but he would always see anybody who wanted to see him. He might not see them for the time that the person wanted to be seen but he'd always see them. I think, you know, one form of generosity is making sure that you've always got time for someone.
Trishna: Yeah, definitely. I wanted to touch on some of your international travels Mike. I know you've been all over the world to see so much work in action and I wondered if you could share a couple of tidbits about what you've learned from your international travels to Africa, Brazil, India, all these places you've been to, what have you learned from these travels about our inherent generosity?
Mike: Well, two examples, in India. I visited many charities but one very powerful one that was started by the head of the Hari Krishnas. They created an organization that feeds one and a half million children every day in their schools with a hot meal. They make the meals all night and then they put them in boxes in heated vans and deliver the vans to the schools so that the children go to school, because again, they get fed and they eat properly so they grow properly and learn properly.
Anyway, the killer story of this is that to feed one child a hot meal every day for a year costs seven pounds fifty, which is the price of two cappuccinos in London. That's an example of somebody focused on helping people and doing it efficiently. Down the other end, we've just been to these communities in the Amazon and what's particularly striking, you know, you have a little boat and crew and what's particularly striking is that they do dances and share their story and all this sort of thing but they tell you about their lives and their values. Their values are handed down from one generation to another generation and they're all incredibly, the sense of community is incredibly strong. They all work for each other and help each other and they are wonderfully happy and they don't want everything.
As to supporting organizations throughout the world, the closer you can, it's an art form and you have to try really hard to make sure it gets to the people who need it and that, you can write another book on that.
Wendy: Thank you for a wonderful conversation. I've got a comment and a question. My comment first is what's really interesting, when I'm listening to is, in the Rainmaker organization, that people are actually brought together in relationship so that they can really do some great work together, and it sounds like some of these relationships are lasting long-term. To me, that seems so much more satisfying than if I see a cause on the computer and I make a donation with my charge card, but just actually meeting the people who are doing the work. I think that's very fulfilling and I really do want to commend Mike for that. My question is, how do you, with all the difficulties in the world and all the great causes, there's so many wonderful causes and organizations, how do you avoid overwhelm, and how are you able to keep focus on what really needs to be done in the world?
Mike: To your first point, it's interesting that introducing the people to the leaders of various charities is great, but also, introducing to each other is great. They all get together and they meet very often during the year, and they have lunch together, they have events together. At its simplest, you would get six or seven people passionate about the environment, reaching each other and helping the environment. Giving as part of a group is as good as the people who are giving. They learn a lot and they feel a lot jollier about reaching the goal.
To your second point, of course, you could be overwhelmed, but there are two things. First of all, we tend to work out what the givers would be most interested in. Some people are interested in the education of disadvantaged youth, for example, so we tend to search out and know charities that help disadvantaged youth, and we know the people who run the organizations and we visited the organizations. Just in India, if somebody has been to India, we have Indian donors, we now know about 40 organizations in India that are well-run and run by inspirational people. It is a big problem, because in any particular area, there are thousands or tons of organizations that you could choose. You can only do it by research, recommendation, and to some extent, trial and error.
Wendy: Well thank you so much. I really am enjoying this phone call.
Mike: That's very good, thank you very much.
Trishna: We have one live comment from Berkeley. Mack Lingo has shared, "So what has changed between you before you started being who you are now?" What was something that created that shift that lead you to become the kind and lovely and generous person you are now.
Mike: Well I think, in very simple terms, it could be tracked back literally to the time that I met the young girl who had cerebral palsy. I was profoundly moved; I've never met anybody, I've never met a disabled child before, I've never met anybody with cerebral palsy before. That whole experience of meeting her was profoundly moving, and then being able to contribute a little bit when she is all it is, really, nobility, and being able to summon groups of friends round to fund an electric-powered wheelchair for her so she can move around, just was a very profoundly moving experience for all of us. That was such a like Act 1, Scene 1. Oh good Lord, you could actually do something useful. It was very exciting.
Trishna: Yeah, I can imagine. Mike, I wanted to go back to something you've shared around leadership and organization, and your comment about how you can't buy inspiration. You talked about values being an important, an essential ingredient in helping an organization to thrive and to inspire others to be generous. I wondered if you can elaborate a little bit on what values you've held space for in your various organizations you've worked with?
Mike: Well, gosh. The first thing is that everybody who works in the organization has to know the purpose of the venture. They have to know why they're all coming to work, and after that they all have to be involved in the decision making processes around their own work and in their own work, and so they become engaged and involved. Which doesn't mean to say that they all have to think that person in charge is a hero all the time, and it doesn't mean to say that the person who's in charge has to do what they say. But it does mean is everybody understands the direction of the organization, why it's there and what it does. And that they feel involved in it.
When that takes place, it's a longer process than telling people to do something and making them get on with it, but once they're engaged, involved, and they know the purpose of the venture, I have to say, generally speaking, things become very powerful. It's quite important that, from a leader's point of view, it doesn't become a popularity contest. We're not paid to be popular. There are reasons why everybody might think you should do something which you won't do, but it is important to consult, and generally, success is when you decide to do something that they don't agree with, but they still trust you, having had their say. As I said, it's not a popularity contest but it works quite well if you do it properly.
Bradley: Thank you, first of all, for the call. Just the other day, I was doing something and wondering if I want to do it. A friend then told me, "Does there always have to be a good reason for you to do something?" I said, "Well yeah, I guess. When I'm going to do something I want to think about why I'm doing it." I think sometimes that actually holding me back. How important is the intention behind the generous act?
Mike: Yeah, thank you. It sounds to me like you're of good heart, so I'd say just get on with it. You don't need to think about it really. I suspect you just need to have a word with yourself. Just do it, don't talk about it, just get on with it. Don't worry what anybody else says either. If you're struck by a heart thing, a head thing, if you're struck by a desire or an idea to do something useful or help someone, just go and do it.
Trishna: I feel like all too often our head gets in the way of our heart. It's that moment where you just jump and respond without letting your head get in the way. That happens to me all the time. I feel like maybe you've passed someone who's homeless, or whatever it is, some situation presents itself and you start thinking about it and you're like, "Should I do this? Should I not do this? What should I do about it?" I feel like if I just stop thinking about it just do what my first instinct is, I feel like I can actually follow my intention, my heart, without letting the head get in the way.
Mike: There's a Latin expression, carpe diem, seize the day. Get on with it.
Audrey: My question is related to your profile on the Awakin site. You listed one thing on your bucket list as going on a spiritual sabbatical. Like a month on a Christian retreat, or a month when you want to meditate, maybe at an ashram in India. I'm curious. Could you share a little bit more about that? I was also really interested in your openness in the different faiths and learning about that.
Mike: To start with, my current life in the last two years has been organized by Google calendar, and it's like every hour is done to some reason or other. It's become a nightmare. Every now and then, I do actually get it cleared for about three weeks. I connect with many people who are very important, or people who are having a hard time. Everybody who works with me just raising their eyes in horror, but it works pretty well. I think that amongst the busyness of the world, I think we need some time off. I'd love to do a spiritual retreat in any form just to get some peace and quiet and think about things.
As far as the Christian part is concerned, you know, growing up we went to church on Sundays and at Christmas-time, at Easter, and so forth. But then there was a long gap. Then in our late 30s, my wife and I had our children christened, and we went to this church where the chap quite reasonably suggested that we might like to turn up to learn something more about Christian faith. So we did. Then we started going to a church, but I was about 40 then. I started going to a local church, and there was lots of prayer involved. I found it altogether very threatening, being an independent sort of chap. I thought there might be a spiritual answer to life. Gradually, over these last X years, I've learned more about faith, which I would describe probably as 10% level. I'd like to learn more. I'd like to retreat, and to learn more about spiritual life, that is. I'd also love to go to an ashram or whatever. It's a sort of inner need, really. What about you?
Audrey: About me?
Audrey: Well, I guess I never really grew up with a religious tradition, so I've always been really interested in just being open to a lot of different faiths. Whether it's going with a friend at her Jewish Temple, or a Christian service, or a Unitarian Universalist service, or going to a meditation retreat, it's always been really interesting. I think in recent years, I found it beneficial for my own daily life to learn how to meditate. That's kind of what I've been interested in lately, but I'm always kind of curious about people's faith traditions, or maybe spiritual traditions, so that struck me. Thank you.
Mike: One of the things you'll find, as I discovered when we were doing the book, was that if you dig not very far below the surface of every single major faith, and all societies, whether Africa, or the Amazon, or China, or anywhere, is that actually the values are unbelievably similar. They're all the same. It's almost as if, as I said at the beginning, they all have a version of the golden rule, which is to look after people as you would like to be treated. They all have an obligation to help people less fortunate than yourself. That's just two of the common shared values. So, you know, I wouldn't worry too much about which particular division it is. We have churches in this country, the Church of England, and within the Church of England there are there are lots of different churches with different values and different practices. They've got different ways of doing the same thing, really. You just have to find one that suits you.
Audrey: Thank you.
Trishna: Thank you, Audrey, and thank you, Mike. As we're approaching the end of the call, I wanted to share, Mike, a comment that came online from Michaele, who is one of our amazing community members for Kind Spring, which is our Smile Card website. She wanted to share with you that every week, after these amazing calls, her husband asks her, "Okay, who was today's speaker, and what have you learned from them?" She wants you to know that today she is going to share with him that today's speaker is a ripple-maker, a person who sparks the sparks in others, and a creator of generosity networks. "Deep gratitude for feeding our world with generosity blooms. In smiles, Mish from New York City"
Mike: Well, wherever Mish is, if you're still listening, Mish, please send me an e-mail, because I'd love to know more about you.
Trishna: One last thing we ask all of our guests, because Service Base is really about serving everybody's journeys, what can we do as a larger service-based community to support your work?
Mike: Well, I think the first thing is that if everybody who was in the Service Space community engaged with the rather special service-based community, that would be great. So keep doing that. From my own point of view, I think spreading the word, dare I say buying the book, and let me know what you think, but most important, probably third of all, is to do something generous in the next few weeks, and tell your story, perhaps on the Generous Gene Facebook page, and like it, all the rest of the stuff. Share it on your own social media.
Trishna: Thank you, Mike, for all that you are and do. It was an honor to host this conversation with you.
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