I went to a boarding school where Sunday church attendance was compulsory. Although my initial attempts at being a believer gradually turned towards stoical humanism, I often found the sermons of visiting guest speakers to be enlightening.
One such speaker was the managing director of a prominent UK company. He told of his passion for opera, and how there was one performance he had really wanted to see but tickets had sold out. In a state of resignation he lamented his predicament to the office cleaning lady, who listened attentively before informing him that her husband was a musician at the opera and could get him a ticket.
The moral of this story is clear, and I believe I took it to heart. I later realized that, by the sheer fact of people living unique lives, that every individual, no matter what age or background, always has some unique views or valuable insights to share.
From Ethiopia to Finland
In my mid twenties I was hired to help grow Cactus Marketing and Advertising based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A young teacher called Yodit came to work as an account handler and it was immediately clear that she had a promising future. My last piece of business advice to the CEO and partner was that she should be given an immediate pay rise.
Some years later I had married a Finnish lady (whom I had met in Addis) and was now living in Helsinki when I heard that Yodit had been awarded a scholarship to study in Norway. Some years after that, via Facebook, she mentioned she was coming to Finland for an internship. So with enthusiasm I said to my wife; “Do you remember Yodit who used to work for Cactus [yes] Well, can you believe it she is coming to work in Finland!” My wife replied; “There’s a Yodit coming to work in my office.”
Yodit and my wife are now established colleagues, and at one point I was even contracted to do some work for her. For me this was the ultimate proof of the phrase: it’s a small world.
But imagine for a moment I had, for whatever reason, thought that I could have behaved disrespectfully to my Ethiopian colleagues with the thought that I was leaving the country and going to faraway Finland.
This tells that we must all now acknowledge that whatever we do, and wherever we go our reputation is going to follow us, and social media is only going to amplifying that.
Rachel Botsman, global speaker and author of “What’s mine is yours”, advocates that our reputations are already becoming a form of currency in the rapidly developing collaborative (sharing) economy.
From Startup Sauna to Kenya
Originally this article was supposed to be about my efforts in helping to organize the recent Startup Sauna event in Kenya called Sauna Safari but I already wrote about that in this Markkinointi&Mainonta post. While writing that, however, it reminded me of these thoughts.
My motivation to take Startup Sauna to Kenya was driven by a passion to introduce them to the exciting startup energy there, but also to share some of the other things I love about Africa. But on a more practical level, I also want to be recognized in Kenya, as I feel that Africa is tied to my destiny. It’s not so much that I was born in Kenya and have worked in Ethiopia but more in line with the saying that; “Africa get’s into your blood.” Africa brings happiness and frustration in equal measure but you can’t accuse it of being dull.
So it’s fantastic that there is now the potential to tie all that I have learnt in Finland about entrepreneurship and startups with my roots and connections in Africa.
Only a fool would underestimate the long-term potential of Africa – its got a long way to go but the historical trends of industrialization are repeating themselves, and in this TED Talk, Charles Roberston, predicts that by 2050 Africa will have an economy bigger than Europe and America combined.
It will be interesting to see how things have continued to develop when Startup Sauna returns to Kenya next year (Note: please contact me if you would like to be a sponsor).
Recently at a Startup Sauna BBQ there was also some discussion of going to Ethiopia too! That’s unofficial pub talk for now but you would be surprised by the quality of some financially successful startups coming out of Ethiopia: two of the most prominent currently are Soul Rebels and LemLem, but even an Austrian friend of mine is doing well with his initially Ethiopian made and inspired fashion accessory label Wubet (Amharic for beautiful).
Open yourself up to the world
So everywhere you go nowadays you can be sure that the reputation you leave in your wake will follow you around the world.
Finns are already used to that living in a particularly close society, and should therefore be good at managing their global reputations.
For sure we all mess up now and again, myself more than I care to mention, but if a positive and inclusive intent underlies all your actions I have faith that things will work out.
Being open, helpful and smart are the visa stamps you need in your global passport to gain access to a more fulfilling life.
The only excuse you can have for not giving everyone you come into contact with the time of day and a friendly ear is that you are simply overwhelmed – never let prejudice cut you off from the wisdoms and benefits they can bestow.
Discourse brings deeper understanding and reward for its own sake but it can also bring helpful surprises: in our weekly chats I learnt recently from our office cleaning lady that she has a family summer cottage on a beautiful island near to Kos where we will be heading for a family break in the autumn, and she gave me some helpful local insights.
Richard von Kaufmann is a co-founder and Head of Social Media & Collaboration at the social media communications agency Vaikutustoimisto Zipipop Freud. He is also a co-founder and Chairman of the Shadow Election democracy project. Before studying at Aalto University Media Lab he had a background in advertising and filmmaking.