Ode magazine saved my life.
Well ok, pointed it in a new direction, more like.
Let me back up.
Four years ago I got West Nile virus. It nearly killed me. After a lengthy recovery period, I found myself in a restaurant with my wife, pondering what to do next. It was clear I was given a second chance, and I wanted to make the most of it. Always a strongly intuitive woman, I asked her what she saw as the next way to go with my life, my work.
She got a distant look in her eyes, then returned my gaze. "Sustainability. And Utne Magazine. And...", she paused, "The orange and green on the walls here."
The next day I found myself experiencing what I call Yellow Karmann Ghia Syndrome: The experience of suddenly seeing everywhere something that wasn't previously on your radar. At first it seems unusual, but it's just you deciding to notice what's all around you, all the time.
It was that way with sustainability. It seemed to show up in every facet of my life, overnight. Honestly, it had not been something I had a strong awareness of...or so I thought. It wasn't until my wife pointed out how often I relayed with great excitement stories from Ode Magazine, that they all had a common thread of sustainability in them.
They also had a thread of creating solutions and opportunities where none appeared to be possible. Of focusing on what's going right, with a pragmatic eye, rather than taking the cynical, obvious route, disassembling things with all the wrongs and why nots you see.
An example? This, from that transitional time, demonstrates what I mean: Miracle in the Desert tells the story of Sekem, an Egyptian company that was created on land that was considered unusable, by a man who, after returning from school in Europe to find his home town of Cairo considerably more poor, diseased, and polluted, realized what was at the heart of it: Economic disparity coupled with heavy chemical fertilizer and pesticide use, among the most in the world.
In a country where environmental awareness was not yet on the radar and the government didn't quite know what to do with a man wanting to buy desert land to farm, "in harmony with nature," he persisted, and got a 210 acre plot. The results were amazing: Biodynamic fruits and vegetables, cereals, teas, medicines, clothing, and toys, among others, sold in 8000 stores. At the time of the article, they employed 2000 people, and were making agreements with farmers across the region to do likewise. Employees and their family have access to an on site school and health care facilities.
All of this coming from a man deciding he wanted to do something to increase the well being of his country's people. This, and several other stories like it inspires me to believe that with persistence of vision and collaboratively working to achieve it, the impossible is, well, possible.
Sekem continues to thrive today.
Another thing that makes Ode stand out is its international perspective. Begun in the Netherlands, with US operations started some years back, they bring a voice that sees further then the walls of their country, and the personal limitations most of us face.
Always interesting to read are the words of Jurriaan Kamp, one of the founders and currently Editor-in-Chief, who relocated to California. His take on our country is at once refreshingly honest, clear, insightful, and hopeful. This recent video of him speaking about why people across the world love Obama, and why he in particular represents our current global reality best, is a viewpoint you're not likely to see elsewhere, expressed so eloquently.
Some of you may be wondering, where/did Utne magazine and the colors on that restaurant wall at our fateful meal come into the picture? The website of Presidio School of Management, where I got my MBA in Sustainable Management, used those same colors at the time, and they were advertising in Utne.
Readers: Where do you find inspiration? What's got you excited these days? Chime in, below.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, blogs weekly on green start ups of note at Triple Pundit and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.