Getting KEA Inspire'd
A flea is able to jump 20,000 times it’s own body height. If you put a flea in a jar, it will jump and hit lid of the jar.
After a while, upon releasing the flea it still retains the capacity to jump 20,000 times it’s own body height, yet it only jumps as far as the former lid of the jar, as it has come to associate jumping with pain.
This was the analogy used by Kea Inspire speaker Cam Calkoen, reminding us why we need to share our inspirations and encourage each other at every turn.
With over 600,000 members of KEA (Kiwi Expat Network), there are no shortage of world-class New Zealanders to tell their stories of inspiration. In a lead up to the World Class New Zealand Awards this Thursday, we heard from seven of them in Wellington yesterday, speaking around the theme of philanthropy.
The first speaker to take the stage was Audette Exel who expressed her happiness at being back in Wellington, the city she left in 1982 to pursue a career in investment banking and corporate law. It was a shock turn to some of her fellow Springbok-Tour-protesting friends and family, who were more familiar with the social justice activist. But Audette explained, that had a larger vision, and she wanted to be able to understand that world.
Starting out her early career with humble beginnings as an office cleaner, Audette told a story illustrating the importance of respecting everyone that you meet. After being rudely ordered around by an office manager whose room and bathroom she cleaned, she ran into "Mr Urinal" years later when he was on the board of directors of a Hong Kong firm who were looking to her to provide them with the right connections to investment. At that moment, when she was holding all the strings, she had never forgotten the person who had shown her so little respect all those years ago.
After spending a number of years navigating the worlds of money and power, in 1998 Audette made another major life turn back towards her original vision, establishing the Adara Group in Australia, which helps improve the lives of those working in poverty. Using her skills in investment banking and the global connections she had made, the organisation now provides millions of dollars of support to more than 50,000 people per year. Working with remote communities in Nepal and Uganda, Adara has provided health and education support, maternal/infant care and has helped to reintegrate child victims of human trafficking.
Audette was named the 2012 NSW Telstra Businesswoman of the Year, was awarded an honorary Order of Australia for service to humanity in 2013, and has been recognised by Forbes as a Hero of Philanthropy. Yet, rather than talking about her achievements, she centred her talk around five things she has learned on her journey:
Be grateful for what you have
Show respect to everyone you work with
Stand up for what is right
Be 100% yourself
Believe in your dreams.
A well-known and widely respected figurehead of New Zealand business, Melissa Clark-Reynolds was recently awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the technology industry. She began her path of go-getting when she enrolled at Massey to become New Zealand’s youngest female university student at the age of 15.
A self-made entrepreneur, she is humble about her achievements. Riffing off the famous Einstein quote of valuing curiosity, she explains that she didn’t enrol in university so young because she was smarter than anyone else, but because she was more curious. Rather than focus on technical subjects such as maths or science, Melissa studied anthropology, as people were the most baffling thing to her.
It’s clear that Melissa is still deeply interested in people and her fellow entrepreneurs and change-makers. Following success in several of her own ventures, she has always been one to help others climb the ladder. Melissa has been particularly active in supporting fellow businesswomen, having represented New Zealand at an APEC Forum on encouraging women entrepreneurs.
Melissa had some great advice for any parents in the audience, as well as young people just starting to embark on their career. She pointed out we can’t possibly know what jobs are going to be valued in the future - indeed, seven or eight years ago, roles such as data scientist, social media intern, iOS or Android developer, zumba instructor, big data architect and beach body coach simply did not exist. When we are at a point when universities are hiring for Professors of Lego, they sky really is the limit.
Melissa's advice was to focus on a broad skill set, be creative, embrace constant learning and to focus not on the “what?” in your career, but the “why?” Encouraging the audience to spend the life doing things that feed your soul, she hit home this point with a modification of Anna Lappé’s quote about spending money:
A member of the Kiwi Connect team, Yoseph is helping to support our vision of New Zealand as an “incubation nation" for solutions to local and global problems. Coming from a passion to address food crises and sustainability, Yoseph encouraged us to spend our limited time in this world on working on the biggest problems that are out there - those that will take more than one generation to solve.
As a global citizen, he resonates well with the borderless nation that the Kea Network has created. Yoseph was born in Ethiopia into a home where he had opportunities to learn, while he witnessed first hand the complex challenges of food, often associated with climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, and deforestation. He sees opportunities for innovation to address these crises and build resilient economies that help not only our generation, but future generations prosper.
Yoseph spent time in Tanzania growing up and studied at Harvard before moving to Silicon Valley to work with tech company Inflection. Within his study and work, Yoseph came to realise that the key components of the widespread change that the world needs, is to be able to act quickly and nimbly, embrace values of stewardship, work collaboratively and have the courage to be first. After visiting New Zealand, he recognised each of these values embedded in the every day New Zealand culture, and decided this was the place for him.
He has now gained residency in New Zealand, and is focused on building the nation’s capacity to be an innovation hub for disruptive solutions in impact entrepreneurship, ecological stewardship and restoration, agtech, education and digital media.
The audience was treated to an unannounced bonus speaker shortly after the break. Bonnie Howland is a 19 year old social entrepreneur who recently went through the Live the Dream accelerator programme.
After visiting Vanu'atu and realising how much of the population suffered from blindness caused by untreated glaucoma, Bonnie started a company called Indigo and Iris, that produces a range of highend make up products. Using only organic products that are not tested on animals, she uses the profits from her business to help fund treatment for people. It was inspiring to see a young businesswoman embedding philanthropy into her business model from day one!
The first thing Drew Knowles did was challenge the audience not to look at their mobile devices for duration of his presentation. Not to ensure all eyes were focused upon him, but rather to draw attention to how easily we are distracted in the modern age.
As the Vice President of Influence Ecology, Drew is an expert in 'transactional approaches' to helping people manage stress, willpower, and performance within business, and in their personal lives. He explains that everything we do in the modern world - communication, business, relationships, exchanging knowledge - is a transaction of sorts. We lead much more complex lives than those of our ancestors, and with this comes an increased number of stressors. And when stress takes over our lives, we experience cognitive overload, brain burnout, and consequently brain-farts - those little regrettable moments where we do things we perhaps didn’t intend to.
Referring to the human body as a "mind-body-brain-skin-bag”, Drew explained his realisation that while there was plenty of advice out there on exercising the body, there was not so much on exercising the mind.
These days Drew advocates splitting your time into a mental wellbeing diet for optimal brain activity:
Sleep-time - Sleep restores the brainPlay-time - Experiment and have fun with lifeDown-time - Make time for integration and insightTime-in - Embrace reflection and mindfulnessConnecting-time - nurture relationshipsPhysical-time - exercise your bodyFocus-time - focus your attention when neededPhysical-time - exercise your body
Dr Swee Tan
As a young man in the small village of Senggarang, Malaysia, Dr Swee Tan dreamed of being a doctor, as he saw that as the most meaningful way for him to help people. But as one of 14 children born to a poor family, he faced some big challenges along the way. After working his way into Australia to medical school, Dr Tan found himself kicked out of the country and came to New Zealand to work as a junior doctor.
Swee's story is one of persistence - after years of being rebuffed by the mainstream medical community, and rejected from medical journals for his unorthodox methods, he has now earned global praise and a swath of awards for his research and work. Now an internationally recognised restorative plastic surgeon and research scientist, he is best known for the work that started out as a fascination with strawberry birthmarks, and has taken him down the path towards stem cell research that could be a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.
In the mid-90’s available treatments for vascular tumours, or strawberry birthmarks, often left children with bad side effects and in extreme cases, unable to walk from spinal damage. His surgery and stem cell research has helped cure dozens of children and adults of birth anomalies, facial trauma, cancer and burns, and has even prompted one young schoolgirl to write a book about this life’s work.
When Cam Calkoen entered an egg ’n spoon race at primary school, his dad called him over on the field, told him “Son, you can achieve anything you want to”, and then spat out a piece of chewing gum onto the spoon and stuck the egg on top. That day, Cam Calkoen, a young Kiwi born with cerebral palsy, achieved acts that defied gravity and knew that he could live a life of awesome.
The final speaker to the Kea Inspire stage, Cam has come a long way since his egg n spoon race on that primary school field. He started out his presentation by asking the audience,
Cam was told at birth, that he would never be able to talk or walk properly. He has since represented New Zealand at the Paralympics competing in the 100m and 200m sprints, and now spends his time travelling the world as a motivational speaker.
Living his life exceeding expectations at every turn, he explained that when people believe in you, you can turn your biggest perceived weaknesses into your biggest strengths. In 2009, Cam founded Caribiner Mentoring, an organisation that matches mentors to young people who have faced extra-ordinary challenges in life.
With a dream to take his inspirational message to audiences in New York, he wrote emails to everyone he knew - and some he didn't (Jay-Z and Beyonce never replied), and tapped into the Kea network of expat Kiwis, some of which were all too happy to provide a helping hand. He soon made his way to the big smoke, fulfilling a dream and knowing that in the word's of Frank Sinatra, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.
No one's stopping Cam Calkoen from jumping 20,000 times his own body height.