You know the butterfly effect? It’s the phenomenon in chaos theory where one small act can be the catalyst for an even greater reaction elsewhere. While it still baffles me how the flap of a butterfly’s wing may cause a storm in a country thousands of kilometers away, I’ve witnessed many times how a seemingly small step in one person’s life can positively impact on so many others. For example, when I encouraged a senior public servant to take a lunch break away from her desk her productivity improved so dramatically in the afternoon that she made sure all her staff took proper meal breaks. What’s more, because the work got done faster everyone go to leave the office earlier, creating more time for exercise, family time, eating well and relaxation.
“It’s the curiosity that drives me. It’s making a difference in the world that prevents me from ever giving up.”Deborah Meier
Recently I spent a week at the School of Life. Co-founded in 2008 by philosopher (and all round nice guy) Alain de Botton, the school runs courses on “the important questions of everyday life”. This was the first summer school outside of London.
We spent the week exploring issues of identity (our relationship with ourselves, work and others), patterns in intimate relationships, staying mindful and making a difference in the world. But it was an afternoon spent in a small city café with the founder of STREAT that really knocked my socks off.
Bec Scott took her desire to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged young people and transformed it into a chain of cafes offering so much more. STREAT is a scalable social enterprise that began with a single coffee cart and has currently grown to three Melbourne cafes.
Social enterprises are businesses that exist to address social or environmental need. Rather than maximising profit for shareholders or owners, profits are reinvested into the community or back into the business.
What impressed me most about Bec was her incredible drive to make a difference. The initial leap from merely eating a meal at a café in Hanoi that supported street kids, to actually working for the organisation itself seems a big enough. But bringing the concept back to Australia to work with our own homeless young people and create a unique social enterprise requires vision and energy.
You don’t need to leave your job and start a social enterprise to make a difference in your world. Sometimes it’s the small things that create a ripple effect from simply being kind to strangers, to donating time and energy to support a worthy project. It’s the ripple the action causes, that counts.
10 ways to make a difference
- Smile at a stranger.
- Acknowledge the goodness in others.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle, upcycle and share.
- Choose an organisation whose ethics are aligned with yours to donate time or money to.
- Stand up for what you believe in – write a letter to the editor, support a local campaign or volunteer to be on a committee.
- Become a mentor.
- Shop at local businesses (you’ll miss them when they’re gone).
- Help teach a child to read.
- Share your skills.
- Eat at STREAT, buy a t-shirt or their new cookbook.