Episode 1: The beginning ...
How it all came about. Who was important to getting me there. And what made me jump.
I'll be writing a blog series about Aventurin One and this is the first of its kind. Over the different episodes you will be able to accompany us in sort of near-realtime with the challenges we're facing, the steps we're achieving and the people who are and will be important for us and to us. This first episode will start with a bit of background on how it all came about ...
A bit of history
I'm already in the middle of a new life - at least it feels a little like this. It is actually rather at a tipping point towards it. This is my September 1, 2019 blog and that is exactly the time where many things change which used to be like this for more than a quarter of a century.
I worked at SAP - a Germany based global software company - for more than 25 years, until yesterday. It was a good time. SAP is a very good company, taking care of its employees, paying well and fostering a culture which empowers people to take up responsibility. I had really nice colleagues, a lot of them. And very interesting and challenging tasks and responsibilities. And great managers and mentors. It is the people and the culture that make a difference. You know "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" - and SAP was always emphasizing the culture and people part a lot, rightfully so. And that made the company successful to a good extend from my point of view.
So I was really enjoying my time at SAP and our family has been doing very well. Sure we had our issues like everybody else, but all in all we've been doing great. Yet there's this little nagging in the back of your mind:
"Don't you need to return something to society?".
I think one trigger point that also made me move much closer to the cliff was a post card featuring a saying which touched me a lot:
"Tame birds sing of freedom, wild birds fly!"
If you just want to and if you're open for the change, there's positive surprises waiting for you. You would never expect this or even ask for it. Yet it will happen. And you will see an amazing world with new lenses.
As I also laid out in my LinkedIn post, this voices got louder and louder and at some point it didn't need much to push me over the edge. It then went from "I should do something" to now being "I do something", because of an incredible row of incidents and because of many people who gave me a helping hand along the way. Without having to, just because they wanted to.
For me it started all together with Awa. Awa is our good daughter in the Senegal, who we have through the NGO Plan International. Awa is a little girl of 8 years at the time and she lives in a little village in the area of Kaolack, Senegal. She was sending spring 2018 one of her regular letters. And thinking back, that was the trigger in my mind. She made the difference. I asked myself
"Why not the Senegal?"
as a place to return something to society and started reading about the country. The Senegal is a politically very stable country. Since France released the Senegal as a colony, all changes of political power were achieved by voting and without violence. All ethnicities in the Senegal get along with each other perfectly. Quite a good democracy!
So I started reading about the Senegal. I read what I could find in the internet about facts and figures, the culture, the history, the people. I also read a few books from tourist guides to personal experiences to biographies of people who just happen to be from the Senegal and now live somewhere else. It formed a first version of a rough picture that got me some first idea.
At some point it was again by pure accident that I stumbled across some article in the German tagesschau.de news app on my mobile which talked about some Australian who had received the alternative Nobel prize for his work. It was Tony Rinaudo working for the NGO World Vision International (WVI) who invented and drove the FMNR methodology, which already makes quite a difference around the globe and especially also in the Senegal. It enables trees to grow out of their anyways in the ground existing roots without having to (buy and) plant them. Which makes it a low budget possibility already changing the life of many farmers to the positive. And I was curious and reached out to WVI to better understand what FMNR can do and how it works. And it wasn't even 48 hours after, that Tony responded to me. Can you imagine how surprised I was. Me - a nobody - gets information from a Nobel prize laureate.
At some later point I realized that these types of people burn for what they do. They don't do this for money.
They do it, because it is RIGHT.
And I met so many more people along my journey who're exactly like this. They help and support, because they just need to. They can't do any different.
So I read even more, but it also became obvious to me that this was just the theory. I needed to see the country and the people in order to understand whether the solutions I had in mind in the meantime would ever match a real world problem down there.
And it was Tony who also connected me to Chris, who's building up an organic farm in the Senegal. Gaïa (Greek for mother nature) is aiming at not only producing organic food, but also providing a fair payment for the workers and by this being sustainable from multiple perspectives including the social one. And it was Chris who eventually also invited me to visit his farm in Kaffrine and get to know the people and the country. And connected me to Tapha, who's running the finance and admin part for him on the ground, while Chris is most of the year in 'Down Under' (Australia), where he is from.
In parallel I searched inside SAP for some Senegalese people, because - I'm pretty sure - there's someone from every country of the world working at SAP. And I was right. I found a colleague in Walldorf born in Dakar, Senegal who didn't hesitate a moment and we started having lunch together a couple of times every few weeks. Babacar gave me precious perspectives about the country, the people and the culture. And what was even more important, after having established a relationship of trust between us, he connected me to his friend Cheikh in Dakar, who was immediately willing to take me by the hand for a week in Dakar.
Besides many others that I got to know, it was Tony, Chris and Tapha as well as Babacar and Cheikh, who stand out in the row of many people who never hesitated to support me.
So then I went to see the Senegal. One week in Dakar, two and a bit weeks in Kaffrine / Kaolack. And I'm so glad I did this. I met many more phantastic people.
Cheikh did allow for a "soft landing" in the Senegal. He lived for 28 years in Germany and returned three years ago, because he also wanted to help his country on its way into the future. He had studied chemistry in Germany, had worked there for more than two decades and wants to bring his knowledge to the young people in the Senegal. Giving those students from university the practical edge of the profession. Because they are the future of this country. By that also giving back...
Cheikh and his family introduced me to Dakar and the Senegal and made me get to know the Senegal in a non-tourist but still soft way. And get to know the incredibly tasty food. Kudos to Meri as well, Cheikh's wife.
I did spend week two and three in Kaffrine with Tapha and friends who also support Chris with his organic farm Gaïa. I learned a lot about organic farming, got to see FMNR first hand through Badara, met tons of people through Tapha when sitting in the evening in the yard and talking about God knows what under the warm sky and the stars of the Senegal.
What really hit me hard was the scenery which I saw everyday when going the roughly half hour walk from my room towards the fields of Gaïa.
You see the animals "grazing" in the field of waste, which mostly is plastic waste. And if the pile of plastic waste becomes too high, well then you just burn it.
These animals try to find something to nurture them in these tough spots. And they will be feeding the people of the village either through their milk or their meat. And I guess nobody will believe that they will carefully eat everything BUT plastic waste. Now imagine the rest on your own...
I also had the chance to meet our goddaughter Awa. This was an overwhelming experience for me. I still cannot really believe what a day that was. Thanks to the people of Plan International in Kaolack!
And last but not least for this episode. I have received so much positive feedback and have had so many inspiring discussions with people that carry me forward. Yet, it is important that your family stands behind you.
And my family has always been absolutely in support of all I'm doing. Seeing and accepting that this decision also involved quite a bit of risk taking, but at the end it's worth it!
In the next episode ...
You will read how I came from my original ideas to what we're pursuing today with Aventurin Waste. And how I then transitioned towards a clear cut in my professional life. And eventually jump.
All the best, Achim