Recently, on a Colbert Show at Clinton Global Initiative University, President Bill Clinton said doing good was a completely selfish act. He stated that he did good because he wanted to leave a better world for his daughter and grandkids. More importantly, that doing good for others made him happier.
I get it. We should all be selfish enough to make this world a better place for ourselves and for all.
On April 30th, 2013, at the start of my day, I called a student in Sierra Leone named Susan Conteh to offer her an opportunity to join me at SciFoo (an amazing gathering for global technology leaders/hackers/makers/writers hosted at Google in California). Susan’s goal is to design fashionable accessories using locally available materials in Sierra Leone and she is a finalist in the high school innovation challenge we host there. She has however explored little beyond her town in the eastern province of the country and this phone call was not part of the package she was promised (as a finalist she gets cash to prototype, access to mentors and a network of other young makers). Susan will also join me in NYC to give a keynote at IDC about how she’s learning through actively problem-solving challenges in her community.
Before I finished telling her about the opportunity, she screamed with joy. She started speaking rapidly and I imagined she wanted to get off the phone to go and celebrate with her family. She was patient enough to answer a few follow up questions and then soon excused herself to appreciate what I imagine must have been a transformational event in her life.
12 hours later, as I retired to bed, I checked my spam folder in my email and just before I hit delete-all, I reluctantly opened an email with a subject line “Congratulations!”. It was an email from Rockefeller Foundation saying, “Innovate Salone has been selected as a recipient of our Next Century Innovator Award. You have been chosen under the Youth Category for your inspiring work with and for young people. You were selected from among many hundreds of amazing entrants from across the world. So, again, congratulations.”
My head sunk deep into the pillow and tears rolled off my cheeks as I absorbed the special news. My thoughts raced back to Susan. How special that we both felt something special given to us? Something we were not expecting but that would hopefully transform the way we implement our visions. That vision being finding ways to improve Sierra Leone in anyway possible. I called a loved one and fell asleep.
Quite often we don’t pause to appreciate the value of giving. That unit of happiness and joy that we share with others is the same as what we get when we receive. It is more than being selfish. It is being selfless.