I remember the first time I truly felt I could make a difference. A time when I knew of poverty only through the World Vision ads on TV or the brief reports of starving children that barely made it into our newspapers. I’m not quite sure what quite compelled me to apply for the 2010 Make Poverty History Road Trip, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the dramatic change my life was going to take or the many ways I’d be empowered to make a difference in the lives of the world’s poorest. Yet as one of the youngest members of the Roadtrip, I remember feeling too young, incapable and voiceless to do anything in the fight against extreme poverty… until I received this note:
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living” – Nelson Mandela
I was so humbled by this simple yet profound encouragement from one of the word’s most remarkable leaders. I stood there and thought, whatever life throws at us, and this leader had been thrown a lot, we all have a great responsibility to live life to it’s full potential and beyond, not just for ourselves but for all those around us.
I was grateful for the reminder that my education, my place of birth and my wealth shouldn’t and couldn’t be taken for granted, but be the very reason why I needed to stop playing small.
Whether in support or opposition of his politics, there in no doubt Madiba has inspired generations of citizens committed to seeing a world free from poverty and racial discrimination. Now is not the time to cease championing his cause.
Since 1990, the same year Mandela was released from prison, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has HALVED from around 43% to 23%. The percentage of women dying in childbirth has also halved and now 89% of world population now have access to safe sources of water. These aren’t small achievements, and they also weren’t achieved by people playing small.
But it’s time to keep playing big, committing ourselves to lives lived to their full capability, lives that ensure the end of poverty is realised.
Maybe you haven’t had the “a-ha” moment yet when you felt great enough or important enough to make a difference, but perhaps as a great leader has passed, it’s time to step up as great leader in your own unique circumstance.
You weren’t born with bountiful riches, opportunity and education to squander your potential, so as we remember Madiba today, maybe it’s time to continue his journey forward.
Maybe this is all new to you. Here’s five books that have been instrumental in me realizing my calling to be a mouthpiece for the world’s poorest.
Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn
The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty by Peter Singer
Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela
The Justice Project by Brian McLaren, Elise Padilla and Ashley Seeber
Or Perhaps you’re ready to give? I couldn’t recommend the work of Baptist World Aid more. Their belief in whole of life transformation for whole communities is a remarkable and sustainable approach to community development. Visit their website for more information or chat to me about my child sponsorship of Gita from Nepal or Rin from Cambodia.
Rest in peace, Tata Madiba.