After 24 hours and three flights, I arrived in the sunny yet a little chill Johannesburg, the business hub of South Africa. It's time to meet the all other Echoing Green fellows and I just could not contain my excitement. Every year, Echoing Green brings all its current fellows of three different consecutive cohorts, fellows at large (i.e. alumni) and staff members from all over the world together for a week. It is not a traditional conference with back-to-back workshops where you hop on and off from one session to another, without knowing much about the person sitting next to you. I've found it more like a big family gathering with a lot of personal and interpersonal check-ins and catch-ups.
This is the kind of event where your view of the word "community" is constantly challenged in every single moment. Having born and raised in a tiny town in the northern part of Vietnam, I understood community as being personal and local. Since I started moving around, the "personal" part has been fairly constant but the "local" part hasn't seemed to stop evolving. No, it is not just the geographical aspect that I'm talking about, even though it's truly geographically diverse where I'm standing now in the room with other Echoing Green folks. There must be a least a hundred different names of countries mentioned, in all five different continents, and many of them I honestly don't even know where they are located exactly on the map. It's also not just about races or genders even though we've truly got rainbow colors here.
There's always more added to that definition of community every time I come to this type of event, which makes it so special to me. It lies in the people who join and the work that they do. Everyone is the social leaders and entrepreneurs who are society-minded, impactful and purpose driven. I'm humbled and constantly blown away by how many different ways to improve the world that my fellows have shown me. Those could be the changes in social justice, woman empowerment, poverty alleviation, sustainability development, worker unions, healthcare, and policy advocacy. I could go on and on.
The world is definitely not a depressing place like what's been portrayed on the everyday headlines at all. It’s gratifying to see this international movement for social good happening in so many different layers and so many different parts of the world.
This conference week is also the opportunity for many of us, including myself, to have a legitimate excuse to take a break from our busy day-to-day work of running an organization so we have that time to sit down properly and checking up on ourselves: where we are? how are we doing? where are we heading to?
It seems a little arbitrary or strange to me at first to learn that Echoing Green has a chaplain to support its fellows. This is certainly not a religious community by all means, but the work they do is incredibly appreciated among the community. Running a normal organization is hard, let alone building something that disrupts the status quo and bringing changes in societies. Besides the glorious side of being praised for the work that you do, there's also so much stress, sleeplessness, and frustration. That's the reason why having someone whose job is just to listen to you without any judgment, without trying to help you to solve your problems, to remind you and guide you through the process of taking care of yourself mentally and spiritually is so important and totally makes sense. The word "support" is certainly taken to a much higher level than being just financial and connection assistance. For that, I'm so grateful to be part of this community.
As the week unfolds to an end, I find myself amazed by a realization of how similar our vision for Fargreen and this vivid picture in front of my eyes of the Echoing Green community are in so many ways, and of how many lessons I could take from this experience to help to bring our organization to a success. Fargreen aims to build prosperous and sustainable farming communities in rural Vietnam and around the world where no such environmental damaging practices like open burning of straw exist and no farmer is left behind in poverty for choosing to stay with their land. In doing so, we help nourish the society with high-quality and healthy local food products.
Reading through this mission statement again, it's crystal clear that building community stays at the focal point of what we are doing. And by community, we mean the community of innovative farmers who join us in collecting the straw left over after the harvest, not setting an open fire to clear it like in the traditional way but instead using it to grow yummy mushrooms with us. This is also the community of doers/risk takers/funders/social entrepreneurs/engineers/mycologists/moms and dads - those who believe strongly in our mission and who are dedicating time, energy, effort and resources in helping to make Fargreen a reality. This is also the community of conscious customers who are smart, sensible and conscious in the way they choose what to buy which pave the way for radical changes in the food industry.
I’m blown away by how many great communities that a tiny single entity like Fargreen is in touch with and being nurtured. Thank you all for being the source of our strength and inspiration so we want to get up every day and try our best in what we do. The change is here and together we can make it happen.
Johannesburg, November 2015
Trang Tran, Fargreen CEO & Founder.
Trang is 2014 Echoing Green Climate Fellow and 2015 TED fellow. Contact Trang at firstname.lastname@example.org