Sir Bob rocks my world

7 06 2012

As a 42-year-old, there is not much that rocks my world anymore. I have seen quite a lot of it and become rather cynical about many things. But this week, my world was definitely rocked.

How often do you get the opportunity to meet a childhood hero? Okay, as a journalist I had more of an opportunity than most to experience powerful politicians, sports figures and movie stars, for example, in action, live, with my own eyes, in front of the lens of my camera.

But yesterday, I encountered someone whom I have looked up to and admired from afar for almost 27 years. That’s two thirds of my life.

Do you remember where you were on July 13th, 1985?

On July 13th, 1985, I was a teenager, and I woke up to a glorious summer Saturday in Vineland, New Jersey – about 30 miles south of Philadelphia – on which I would play in my first (and, it would turn out, my last) tennis tournament. I was swiftly smoked off the court, 6-0, 6-0. My mother had scheduled a yard sale; we were about move house yet again and she was on a mission to clear out useless clutter from our garage, our closets and our lives.

But something else happened that day… not too far away, in fact, just down the road in Philadelphia. Something that had global reach and global consequences.

Do you remember Bob Geldof? (Now “Sir Bob” to us mortals.) The guy who rallied his musician friends and family to fight poverty, drought and famine in Africa. His “Do they know it’s Christmas” LP was the very first piece of vinyl I purchased with my own money. Same guy who organized simultaneous blockbuster charity concerts in Philly and London on July 13th, 1985: Live Aid.

Remember?

I met Sir Bob Geldof yesterday, live and up close.

Almost 30 years on, he is now over 60, looking a little the worse for wear, but still rallying the masses with personal, passionate, inspirational messages, delivered extemporaneously, and unconventionally. A scandal here and a bit of outrage there always accompanied him on his journey.

But that never stopped him from his goal of changing the world, a single opinion at a time. With much noise, and little subtlety.

Last night he spoke to an international group of 200 high-level corporate executives from the chocolate industry, government officials and NGO representatives at a five-star Swiss mountain resort. At the industry’s invitation, he spoke about its responsibility to the regions of Africa, Asia and South America from which it sources its cocoa, and where its farmers eek out a precarious existence at the mercy of the weather and the global terminal markets. He spoke about deprivation and dependence, the need for ecological as well as social sustainability for communities ravaged by natural and man-made disasters, AIDS and hopelessness. He spoke about taboo topics like human trafficking, child labor, deforestation, abject poverty and exploitation.

He held up a mirror to the industry, and told all of those important folks in the room exactly what he thought of it. While he acknowledged that all of us are, generally, good people (probably), there are a lot of things our companies continue to do that are absolutely disgraceful. And that in the future, something must change.

We always blame it on “the system” when really, “the system” is every individual.

And the future, well, the future is now.

Geldof was in fine form, using the F-word a good dozen times in 45 minutes. I sat in the cheap seats and enjoyed every minute.

After his speech and a photo op, the event’s organizers invited him to join them for dinner. He declined, adding: “I just want to go get drunk now.”

Just a regular Irishman.

Rock on, Sir Bob. You are my hero.

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Back to work!

12 02 2012

So last Thursday I started a new job.

Fortunately, it’s a really great job, with a lot of good benefits and an interesting, wide-ranging scope, and I really hope that I can keep it for a while. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal the name of my employer here because, well, I’m just a little paranoid about these things.

It’s a corporate job, and one which finds itself at the crossroads where doing good business meets doing good for society and the environment. It’s in the relatively new, wide-open field of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Companies are finally figuring out that it helps to consider the ethical consequences of their actions, rather than steering directly to maximum profit and ignoring the world around them, or the problems they may be creating.

Taking responsibility.

CSR is a controversial place. Some (neanderthal) corporate executives complain that it’s an expensive waste of money with zero return on investment. Some (dogmatic) non-profit organizations on the other hand complain that companies are engaging themselves in areas in which they have no expertise – and are going to screw it up anyway. Or that their efforts are not sincere. Or that they are interested only in the public relations benefits (also known as “greenwash”).

I’m very aware of the quandary CSR practitioners find themselves in. Nevertheless, I think there’s a lot to be said for the efforts that are being made. And after all, no single company or person can save the world. My employer has a huge interest in the subject, with a correspondingly significant budget as well.

For me, it’s something completely new. So new that in addition to my (full time) job I will also be attending university courses part-time for the next seven months to get a theoretical grounding in the basics. And that’s another challenge – going back to school almost exactly 20 years after I completed my last degree.

(What do I take with me? A pencil case? Or just a laptop?)

This will be my third career. When I got my Master’s degree two decades ago, I read that this was the direction in which society would be moving: While our grandparents’ generation generally stayed at one employer for many years, members of my parents’ generation changed jobs two, three and maybe even four times during the course of their working lives. My generation would change careers that many times.

Et voilà. Here I am.

This new job is waaaaaayyyyyy outside my comfort zone. In, like, Siberia as far as I am concerned. But judging by the winter we are having, I just also may very well be in Siberia right now. Nothing to be afraid of though, just a matter of dressing warm enough, right?

I know I’m smart (kinda), I know I have my head screwed on right (most of the time, at least), and I know that I have mastered incredibly difficult professional situations before – perhaps not with the greatest panache and elegance, but you don’t get points for style here.

Stay tuned, if you’re interested. This is going to be fun.