This morning I cast a vote, one of the 46.5 million expected to vote in only the 3rd time in British history where we will be asked to vote on only one question. Today over 100,000 counting staff will compile the results and we will learn if we are remaining as part of Europe or choosing to go our own way.
For this vote I was influenced by something beyond the usual economic considerations (I run a business which works globally) and personal preferences (I regularly travel beyond British borders) that normally affect my voting option. For this vote I was influenced by a unique personal experience which I had last month as part of a project with UNHRC (the UN Human Rights Council).
In response to a global refugee crisis for which no one has a solution to, UNHRC ran a competition with designers around the world to identify innovative responses to the many challenges being faced by an influx of people leaving their homes, families and cultures.
"One person, one country, one business can have a limited impact. A community of countries, people and business’ can create a world that works for everyone"
I’ve participated in lots of workshops on various initiatives around the world and this one was as interesting and inspiring as the best of them, until the life changing moment when we were given the chance to interview the people we were designing solutions for.
Our group of enthusiastic changemakers was taken to a hotel/conference centre on the outskirts of a European city. The venue, once used for academics to gather and debate, was a familiar environment for anyone from the event industry used to break out rooms with white boards.
I interviewed Jamelia, a woman in her mid fifties who had left Syria with her youngest daughter and son and after a 1.5 year wait had just received her papers to be able to stay in Sweden and start creating a life there. We asked her what she wanted to do, she looked blank at this question and responded ‘I will do whatever I can to give back to Sweden’. We asked again ‘but if you could do anything what would it be’ and it became clear that Jamelia was no longer able to relate to herself as someone who had that freedom to choose her future, she saw herself as someone that would do whatever she was asked to show gratitude to her new home. The only point in the interview that we connected with the real Jamelia (in other words we saw the personality of a free person rather than the personality of someone stuck in a refugee camp) was when we asked her what she would have done if we would have visited her house 10 years ago. Her face lit up and she described the cake she would have made for us, the garden we would have sat in and the plants we would have seen. With the help of the translator we learnt a Syrian saying ‘in my eyes I will take you’ and in that moment we were connected with someone who valued the same things we value- home, family, food, nature, our only difference being Jamelia no longer had access to those things that we take forgranted.
Next we met Maya and Usif a young married couple. Maya was 21, strong, passionate and willing to use the English she had learned at school and from television. She reminded me of the many future leaders I have met through the MPI/IMEX/MCI programme, individuals passionate about using their futures to make a difference and confident in the impact they can make. She shared her passion for her new home Sweden and her dedication was obvious. I run a small business with a regular influx of interns and if she would have been an intern I would have recognised her as someone I wanted to keep on full time staff. Her husband Usif was much quieter and struggling with the concern that his Swedish paperwork documented he was from Iraq while all his paperwork was from Syria. He was an example of the psychological harm a paperwork error can cause.
This morning my vote was influenced by a life experience that made it shockingly clear that had I been born in a different country my lifestyle could now be one where I woke up in a city centre conference centre, sharing a room with 6 other people, with no purpose for the day other than waiting for paperwork, wondering about my future and worrying about my community left behind.
Understanding this I want to support creating solutions which give everyone in the world the freedom to create their lives in a way that makes a positive difference. I work in the event industry and understand the power of coming together to innovate, collaborate and create solutions. One person, one country, one business can have a limited impact. A community of countries, people and business’ can create a world that works for everyone.