From the moment we are born, society has already defined us. We are pushed into thinking small throughout our entire lives—by others, our environment, and the existing systems within our society, but most powerfully of all we unconsciously limit ourselves.
Ashoka works from a very different belief. Our global community of changemakers envisions a world in which every person can realize their potential and be a leader in creating meaningful solutions to our shared challenges—we call it an Everyone a Changemaker world. For this to happen, we believe we must 1) give ourselves permission and 2) learn the four critical skills of empathy, teamwork, leadership and changemaking. (Learn more about Ashoka’s vision here.)
I recently attended an event in Toronto hosted by Ashoka Canada, convening a community of people who are changing systems and frameworks by partnering with businesses, schools and communities. While there, I met Peter Mortifee, a retired physician and founder of Somerset Foundation. His journey reflects the most fundamental step in becoming a changemaker: giving ourselves permission.
The event started with a presentation by Ashoka Vice President Henry DeSio sharing his experience as the COO of Obama for America. He told inspirational stories of the changemakers he worked with on the campaign. Several Ashoka Fellows followed by speaking about their work, their involvement with Ashoka, and their vision for the future. To close the evening Mortifee spoke about his experiences as an Ashoka Support Network member since 2010.
What he shared next was a moment I will never forget.
Mortifee stood and explained that it is easy to feel small in a room full of Ashoka Fellows, changing systems and the world in immense ways.
“I was sitting in my chair and I was confronted by a lot of fear, a lot of the fear was connected to feeling small. I realized that what was happening was that voices were being activated, that were telling me you’re not big enough, you don’t belong in this room at this point, this moment, you’re a fraud. There I was feeling quite frightened,” he said.
Ashoka Support Network is a global community of successful business people who believe entrepreneurs are the primary engine for social and economic change. Peter’s personal engagement with ASN has helped scale the impact of Ashoka Fellows’ models in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Africa. Mortifee is also a key player in strengthening the Ashoka community in Vancouver.
It occurred to me that although Mortifee has been working toward the betterment of his community, investing in his medical students and social innovators around the world, he is still vulnerable to making himself feel small, inadequate, and a fan of an Everyone a Changemaker world, rather than a leader of it.
Later he told me, “As I was speaking it seemed authentic for me to share the truth about the smallness I was feeling. I had a choice to step into something bigger than that, healthier than that. This is the change. When I step into my truth, when I can share that with others, I am a changemaker, I am being the change.” To the audience, Mortifee explained that this was the moment he realized he was a changemaker, and, without knowing it, inspired everyone in the room.
“The Ashoka community is an extensive one.... The reward for me to be engaged in this way is many dimensional, it gives me a great feeling of hope, my world has really changed being engaged with Ashoka.”
This is a feeling that we can all relate to in a world full of cynicism. Everyone a Changemaker starts from within. Mortifee, helped me truly understand what it means to be a changemaker. In order to step out of those small places we are often pushed and into our biggest potential, to think outside of the box, to not only identify problems, but to be called into action, to collaborate with others and find solutions, we must first give ourselves permission.
What was a moment you felt intimidated by an issue and how did you overcome your fear to create change? Share your changemaker stories with us on Facebook.
This article first appeared in Good.is.
Laxmi Parthasarathy is Global Media Manager for Ashoka, based in Washington D.C