- December 19, 2019
In 2006, my life changed. This change was precipitated by something that I read. The literature had such an immense impact, that it made me question my life’s meaning. Ultimately, my heart, my mind and my direction would be changed forever.
In hindsight, the change might have begun 2 years before. In 2004. Three big things impacted me:
- My long-term relationship truly ended.
- The Indian Ocean Tsunami plummeted Asia, and parts of Africa claiming over 220,000 lives.
- I participated in a development programme that helped me discover the work I really wanted to do.
Perhaps the end of my relationship became the catalyst for my deeper reflection. It is said that it takes two to make and/or to break a relationship but as things started to fall apart, it all seemed very one-sided – and it wasn’t me. Thanks to some difficult conversations, honest reflection and time, I came to the realise that my choices, my decisions and my actions had, indeed, contributed to the relationship’s end.
The development programme couldn’t have come at a better time.
Although it was an extremely challenging process – personal development was not something I had really explored for myself before. But because it was a course (or programme), I along with everyone else who took part, had to do the work. I realised from that programme that I deeply wanted to find more meaning in the work I did every day. I wanted what I did to matter to me.
I wanted to be able to positively make a difference in people’s lives. Given that I had chosen to work in the private sector, my journey towards learning more about positive impact in the corporate context began.
My wake up call
Towards the end of that year, on 27th December 2004, I watched the news in shock, horror and tears. The channels kept replaying the devastation, the suddenness, the speed and the magnitude of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. More than 220,000 people had died. Families were decimated, communities and economies destroyed. How could this have happened? Did anyone see this coming? I doubt I will ever forget how I felt at that time. Neither will I be able to erase the images I saw on TV; and I don’t think I ever want to.
Fast forward to 2006. Sitting in my living room one evening with the memory of the Tsunami still etched in my mind, I recalled a conversation at work about a report called the Stern Review*. After a quick Google search, I found it. It was authored by Nicholas Stern, an economist, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) and chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) at Leeds University and LSE. The report, published in 2006, was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Treasury of the UK Government to give evidence on the economic impacts of climate change, and on the costs and benefits of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the UK and globally.
I read the report and sat quietly for a long while after I finished. My brain was trying to digest the science, the facts. My emotions were struggling to comprehend the consequences. I didn’t understand a lot of the details at that time. But there were a couple of things that I did understand and that really ‘hit home’.
The report clearly highlighted that:
Climate change presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.
The impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed – the poorest countries and people will suffer earliest and most. And if and when the damages appear it will be too late to reverse the process. Thus we are forced to look a long way ahead.
The deeply disheartening reality is that developing countries have barely contributed to our current climate change scenario. It was a daunting reality, imagining the possibility of the Indian Ocean Tsunami happening over and over again in coastal cities and towns across the African continent and the wider developing world. I couldn’t believe it. My home, my country, my continent, my family, my friends, my communities; would suffer the most.
I was angry – this was not our fault, this was not our problem, why should we be the ones to suffer the most for something we didn’t do. And then I felt lost – where do you even begin, what does one do with something like this? How could I begin to forget what I had read, was that even possible?
That night, I pulled my fluffy elephant – a childhood cuddly toy – out from the back of my wardrobe, where I had hidden it; and I held it close while I tried to fall asleep. Sleep was an elusive friend. I left the bedside lamp on that night. For the first time in a very long time, I was afraid of the dark, and the thoughts that were filling my head. I was afraid of the morning that was to come, with its certainty that what I had thought before was never going to be the same ever again.
It was that night that my meaning changed.
I knew I couldn’t stand by and not do something, anything. And so I made a promise to myself: that I would always choose to protect the environment and help foster better lives and communities. And that I would share what I knew with my friends, social circles, and anyone who might be willing to listen; and sometimes with those who didn’t want to listen.
And so, in 2006, my life changed.
Until today, my meaning is to always seek ways to make this world a better place through my career, my life choices and actions. I want to do my part in creating a world where we care about each other and our shared future. That is my life’s vision. And because of what I have come to know and who I have become, it is impossible for me to live with myself if I’m not doing so.
It is not easy, and I will continue to make mistakes every day; sometimes more than I can dare to count. But the thing is, I never thought it would be simple and easy, because the challenge at hand is massive, and, because I believe that really important things rarely are simple or easy. They take effort, time, perseverance, and like Barack Obama said, “the audacity of hope”. But each day I will strive. Because making that conscious choice daily to create a better world (for my home, my country, my continent, my family, my friends, my communities) gives me my meaning.
It is important to always remember, that it is still the reality that despite the developing world’s minimal contribution to climate change, we will still experience its (perhaps worst) impacts. And that our own development trajectory will likely exacerbate the crisis. There are no simple answers, but we all need to do something better, big or small. I have hope in our individual choices and actions.
*The Stern Review is considered an influential report in the climate change debate despite being published more than a decade ago. Read the 4-page executive summary In December 2019, the UN Climate Change COP 25 took place. Here is a little insight into where we all (the world) stand today: World Meteorological Organisation Provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate 2019 (video: 1m41secs)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan is passionate about sustainability and authentic communications and sees these as key drivers in all her career and/or personal growth decisions. She has over 15 years of experience in corporate sustainability, corporate affairs and marketing in a number of multi-national organisations both in Kenya and internationally. Currently, Susan serves as Head, Sustainability & Community Engagement, Standard Chartered Bank, Kenya where she drives the Bank’s sustainability and community engagement strategy. She thoroughly enjoys meaningful conversations, great laughs, reading/learning, and experiencing new places and people.
*The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual