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Mahatma Gandhi on currency
How do you measure the wealth of a nation – by the infinitesimally small increments in its GDP? By the number of ‘A’ ratings in its S&P credit status? By the level of its national debt? Perhaps we measure it by the annual orgy of rich list publications that show the greatly increasing disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor and the number of billionaires living outside their home country for “tax purposes”. Is it not ironic that we revere icons who amass wealth and pledge to give it all away in their own lifetime. By the same measure we idolise many who have never had wealth – consider for example, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. It was Gandhi’s saying “be the change that you want to see in the world” that first drew me to Sewa Day in 2010.
Sewa Day is the global volunteering initiative that aims to guide people into volunteering selflessly on a single day of action to alleviate hardship, protect the environment or simply bring a little joy. Sewa Day may have been born out of the need to address the depression created by global banking crisis of 2008, but, its core tenets have touched a nerve in all 50,000 people who took part in over 20 countries last year. I call that ‘nerve’ a selflessness streak – giving time and resources without any expectation of reward. If countries could create a “Selflessness Index” as a measure would its population not be that much happier as a result?
The concept of Sewa Day is universal. The word may have originated in Sanskrit, but as Sewa Day projects have shown us, the concept of selfless volunteering extends beyond religion, race, creed, age or gender. It is that helping hand that allows neighbours who may never have spoken to each other to come together to clear the litter from their local park, paint a few walls so that their kids have a better children’s play area or plant some bulbs so that everyone can enjoy some colour when Spring arrives. These are all examples of Sewa Day projects last year. For me the most humbling experiences of Sewa Day were the school projects in the United Arab Emirates where a huge number of children suddenly realised how dependent they were on largely immigrant support staff to keep their school, their environment and their life a pleasant experience. Another amazing example was a project in Hong Kong that fed a thousand elderly people and brought a little joy into their lives for a moment.
And it is just these very brief fleeting moments that we need create, expand and grow. I decided to accept Sewa Day’s offer to become Deputy Chair in the hope that I can draw on my marketing and digital media experience to help it achieve its next few milestones. What I have found is a dedicated, enthusiastic team of fantastic people who not only bring their brawn (many a lawyer has rolled up his sleeves to collect litter) but also their brains to help Sewa Day reach out to many more communities and schools. At first it was a little bewildering. The question “Who’s in charge?” drew a few blank looks as Sewa Day operates like a collective. “Who does what?” also drew a silence as most volunteers do what they are good at based on their skills or wishes. And the statement “why don’t we do xyz?” drew many enthusiastic nods. The energy and enthusiasm among the Sewa Day volunteers is infectious and cohesive. I feel included.
And community cohesion is an important part of Sewa Day. Personally, I would not get an opportunity to meet so many different types of people if I was not involved in Sewa Day. Communities are nebulous, often based around local sites, interests and passions so one day in the year when people can come together can create relationships that will last a lifetime. What I like best about Sewa Day is that nobody tells you what to do – it is up to you as an individual to choose what you’d like to do. You can do as little or as much as you want, but like many things in life – the more sewa you do, the greater the sense of satisfaction and achievement. From the outset my commitment has been to photograph and document the Sewa Day projects to help the initiative build a legacy of volunteering. Starting is often the hardest part. What can you do as an individual? What can you and a couple of friends do to help? Take heart from the many case studies highlighted on the Sewa Day website and from the inaugural Sewa Pioneers Award winners who have lit the path to follow.
Sewa Day projects take surprisingly little planning. They take a great deal of courage. Courage to make a phone call; to ask someone if there is something you can help with; do or get involved in. The growing number of Sewa partners, corporates and initiatives all help spark ideas for you to “be the change” that you want to see in your world. The Sewa Schools project is a great example of how Sewa Day can be meaningful to even the youngest. In 2012, 80 schools participated in a week-long project with many young students dreaming up their own ideas about how they can help. Sewa Day is a great leveller of talent, skills and ambition – everyone can do something for someone else – so in our busy lives, sewa is often a revelation for young minds.
So what can I do to make Sewa Day that much bigger, brighter and more far-reaching than it already is? Well I don’t have all the answers, but by focusing on the digital media strategy I hope Sewa Day can reach out to many more of you, helping you keep in touch with others; find projects; find co-conspirators for your projects and generally have a bit of fun on Sewa Day itself. I hope to engage with many more teachers, who as mentors of young minds can create a lasting impact on the next generation. I hope to impart some of what I have learnt about marketing to strengthen local project ideas and in return learn some new skills along the way. And I hope to highlight the hidden success stories of Sewa Day – the people, the projects, the techniques and the impact.
Perhaps the best way to measure the wealth of a nation is to measure how its people feel about themselves?
I hope you’ll join me on Sewa Day this year which is on Sunday 6th October 2013.
Deputy Chair – Sewa Day