Rock the boat – the power of learning journeys

Last Friday, I spent the afternoon with a number of Japanese senior citizens who were visiting London on the Peace Boat.  If you are thinking about that Greenpeace boat that attacks whaling ships, you’d be mistaken. 

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However, if you are thinking about the Japanese NGO cruise ship that three times a year takes over 1000 mostly Japanese passengers around the world, stopping at over 20 countries on the way, with a mission to promote peace, sustainability and socially beneficial organizations, then you’d be correct.

Last year, I spent three and a half months circumnavigating the globe on this boat.  I was working on board as a Global English Teacher, and as a Guest Educator in social enterprise. Throughout the voyage, Guest Educators from different parts of the world are invited on board for anything from a few days to several months.  They share their knowledge, answer questions, organise events and workshops, and in some cases, inspire the passengers to take action.

Many of the passengers didn’t come on board for these lectures. They paid to come on board for the amazing experience of travelling around the world, (and asking people like me where they can buy Fortnum and Mason tea in London).

However, it was fascinating to see how the talks and events offered, matched with the stimulating experience of world travel started to influence the passengers.  

Take our trip down the Suez Canal. A few of the passengers and myself are sitting outside on the back deck, sunbathing in the jacuzzi. Life is good.  We pass under the Suez Canal Bridge that links Asia and Africa that was, until recently, known as the Mubarak Peace Bridge. The captain tells us the construction was 60% funded by the Japanese government.

“Are we going under the Mubarak Peace Bridge?” – “Yep”

“Didn’t he attack his own people?” – “Yeah”

“Doesn’t sound very peaceful. Are those tanks?” – “Er, Yeah.”

Why is that gunship following us?” – “Maybe we should go inside…”

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You can imagine the kind of conversations this prompts. The great thing is, that we can actually go inside the ship, and hear a talk, that afternoon, about the Arab Spring.  In fact I attended several talks with a Libyan Guest Educator regarding the situation there.

What I thought was so powerful was the connection that we felt with the world around us, and that our actions are important, and have far reaching consequences.  We started to question the decisions and actions we take every day, especially regarding living in a peaceful, sustainable way.

Personally, I was amazed to see the results from my “How to Get Started in Social Enterprise” lectures and workshops. To see participants, right in front of me, create the future we want, rather than settling for what is. 

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It was a very rewarding and moving experience.  I am happy to say for certain that at least two workshop participants have turned these visions into a developing reality.  I’m sure it is more, and looking through a prospectus of growing, investable Japanese social enterprises with a Peace Boat colleague, it was eye opening to see that many of the founders were former Peace Boat passengers and volunteers. I’m sure the investors are too.

About 70% of the passengers were over 50 years old, having the time and money to afford the journey, and often fall into the potential “social investor” category.  A good 20% are under 30, and count as potential social entrepreneurs of the future. 

By volunteering with the Peace Boat NGO in Japan before a voyage, these younger passengers can exchange their time for generous discounts, & even join the journey completely free of charge.

I really believe in the power of these learning journeys to stimulate and inspire participants to take action, whether it’s joining, starting, or supporting socially beneficial projects when they return home. 

These journeys give us the connections, tools, and global perspective from which to create a better world. They’re not just for MBAs and CEOs, they are for all of us, and I hope that you too have the chance to take many inspiring learning journeys, and are open to the possibility that they may in fact, change the course of your life.

How to set up a Social Enterprise in Iguassu Falls – Parque Das Aves

“One of the most interesting concepts from the bird park story is that, when starting your own enterprise, it’s never possible to correctly assess all the risks or the possibility of success.

Successful enterprise is about just starting something and then going all out, fighting to the death and developing your product as you go along. Most people are far too sensible to start their own business.”

Carmel Croukamp, Park Das Aves

I first met the Croukamps on the Isle of Man.  Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit their park, but how many of them know and understand what it took to get started?  That is the story I would like them to share with you.

In Carmel’s own words:

The Bird Park

The Bird Park is a social and conservation enterprise in the endangered Atlantic Rainforest. We’re set right next to the Iguassu National Park, home of the magnificent Iguassu Falls. We make our money from tourism, charging entry fees for a unique experience of close contact with native birds in the jungle. This enables us to breed native and endangered species, conduct scientific research and educate locals on the environment.

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The Beginning

Parque das Aves Brazil was started by Dennis and Anna Croukamp in 1993. Dennis was an entrepreneur, Anna a vet. They both fell in love with parrots when a friend gave them a tiny, bald, ugly baby African Grey parrot, which they hand raised and which became a member of the family, flying free outside during the day, eating at the dinner table and going to sleep under a tea towel on Dennis’ lap every evening. Eventually, they had quite a collection of parrots.

When they retired to the Isle of Man, Dennis got very bored. One day, a former manager of his came to visit and told Dennis of this place in Brazil with the most beautiful waterfalls, and that he thought they should build a crocodile farm there together. Dennis said, “I don’t like crocodiles, I like birds”.

Opportunity, and Tragedy

The idea was initially just to put together a project and to raise capital from larger investors. In those days, the Brazilian currency, the Cruzeiro, was still in hyperinflation, and the rule of law, actually only few years after the collapse of the dictatorship, was pretty sparse, especially in the notorious Triple Frontier (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina) region. The Ernst and Young handbook on how to do business in Brazil said: “Don’t”.

Almost inevitably, the investment deals fell through. Dennis lost his business partner, and he was left with the decision of losing all the capital he had put up so far, or of going all in and risking his entire retirement fund to finance it all himself. Dennis was passionate about this project. He decided to risk everything.

He spoke no Portuguese, he knew nothing about building a zoo or of tourism, in a climate fundamentally uninviting to entrepreneurship. He poured all the money he had left into the park. Dennis and Anna sold their cars, jewelry, everything of value (Richard: In fact, my father bought Dennis Croukamp’s car).

They started building. When they ran out of money, they opened the park to a small trickle of visitors. Then Dennis died.

Continued here…