Cairo. On a day in the last days of May, along the banks of the Nile as it winds peacefully through New Egypt, blossoms of Arab Spring are scattered in clear sight. Billboards, roadside signs, flags, all stand tall declaring this a nation of, for, and with its people. A distinct feeling of Spring is in the air. While millions of weaving cars sputter out gusts of gray exhaust in one of the world’s most populated and polluted cities, still one can sense a freshness.
The presence of Spring blossoms has occurred, however, as a result of the rains. Storms and showers have made the blossoms come to life. Evidence of the uprising – burnt out buildings, broken sidewalks, spray-painted messages on shop exteriors, central squares and locations still feeling haunted by dramatic events leading up to 25.01.11 – appear like bolts of lightning on the otherwise visually calm landscape.
Today they are symbols of possibility, of responsibility, of unity and of youth-lead democracy. One man. One thought. And soon it was one million. A desire to own the future, a better future, gave birth to a movement that soon created an uprising beyond expectation and imagination. And beyond reversal.
Today, scattered about the streets of Cairo, their presence, while painful in ways, inspires. Because these are the proof of the power of conviction. These are the symbols of what it means to take a stand.
The concept of ‘taking a stand’ is not new. The presence of its sentiment being turned into world-shaping action, however, seems to have taken on a new life. With increasing frequency, issues are increasing in voice, mobilizing millions to have an impact. The power of an individual to take a stand as been unleashed to unprecedented levels as a result of our now e-connected world. Soon, communities (be they connected through social networks, coffee tables or otherwise) have become movements. These movements have become uprisings. In many cases, as recently seen in Egypt, these uprisings have become forces which have had the power to change the shape of the world around us, philosophically, politically, and otherwise.
Still, for all of its momentum, the greatest power of taking a stand comes from one individual seeking to break a silence of a perceived ‘wrong’. The fire of conviction, the courage to say something, creates attention which not only builds awareness – it gives others the courage to stand up alongside, creating increased awareness and infectious inspiration, to the point that it simply undeniable, unavoidable, and unstoppable.
Why courage? Because more often than not the issues which inspire people to take a stand are those that make others uncomfortable. They are risky. Standing up may risk one’s safety, image, acceptability or position. And this may be at individual or collective level.
One recent example of a corporation displaying courage in taking a stand is CNN. Launched in early 2011, the CNN Freedom Project http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/17/more-about-the-cnn-freedom-project/ By building awareness around the breadth and depth of the issue of modern-day slavery, worldwide, CNN seeks to inspire courage in audiences around the world to take a stand against an issue which has, for years, been growing undetected or denied, as a tumor in societies across the world.
To do this, for a corporation to take a stand at such a massive scale, is a reflection of the strength of conviction of the network. That, in its own way, is inspirational.
And as seen through the number of corporations, politicians, celebrities, and viewers CNN has been able to encourage to come forward and openly, visibly and proudly participate in the campaign, where there is conviction and courage, there is unstoppable movement.
Still, it comes down to the power of one. As recently emphasized by Richard Quest in an interview with Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Carlson Companies around how her group of global travel companies is doing its part to ensure that the tourism industry does not tolerate child labour and child prostitution, it is not just up to travel companies – it is also up to the traveler to take a stand and alert the authorities of any such offenses observed. That is how we ensure that the tourism sector is truly ‘equitable’.
Will such overt examination of such a taboo issue create discomfort? Yes.
Does it require courage? Yes.
But by doing so, by taking a stand, CNN, and others in the global travel industry and other spheres of economic, social and political activity, are now taking a step forward in shaping a world we can feel proud of being apart of, and excited about exploring further.
Back in the here and now, as the deep, soothing sound of the calling to mosque blankets over the sound of Cairo traffic, its unifying tones transcend Egyptian networks and telecoms, creating a connection between where Egypt has come from…and where it is going, across all neighbourhoods, all generations, all aspirations.
One sound, one thought, reaching out and moving millions.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011
In just a matter of days (hours, minutes and seconds, for those counting down), the occasion defined as “the wedding of the century” will be taking place in Westminster Abbey in London. With an estimated million spectators expected to be lining the streets in London, and billions watching on television screens across the world, the long anticipated Royal Wedding of Britain’s future King and his Bucklebury princess will be underway.
Global excitement and media coverage is reaching unprecedented levels. Quite unbelievable really, considering the rather exclusive nature of the occasion. Still, the hype is inescapable, the countdown globally audible, the expression of emotion uncontrollable, the falling unstoppable…
As the big day nears, it is interesting to look back at the process of the world falling in love.
First, there was the introduction. The world outside of the Commonwealth was introduced to a prince and a future princess through the announcement of an imminent royal wedding. Suddenly images of the beautiful Brits started appearing on grocery aisle magazine racks from the U.S. to the U.A.E. Her beauty, his throne and their fairytale romance swept the world. Royal watchers or not, it was hard not to take a little look at the couple causing all of the excitement.
Then came the courtship. As the months ticked by and details around the royal wedding were carefully shared with the world, slowly slowly slowly the royal couple started to make their way into the hearts of hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The butterflies were busy stirring up pre-wedding ideas, images and insights. Without warning they caught our eye, captured our interest, won our hearts. It was not love at first sight – it took time. But, ultimately, it did happen. The world fell in love.
It was love at first hope. For the first time in a long, challenging time, there was something happening which made our hearts feel hopeful, feel happiness, feel warmth…even if it is for someone else.
Now, it is an all-out love affair. The world is intoxicated by the emotion of the moment. The royal wedding has become a global event, an Olympic size celebration of love, romance and promise…and a magnificent Olympics 2012 warm-up for the city of London.
Interestingly, with the growth in momentum of excitement, there also seems to be a growing momentum in justification of why, exactly why, we care.
Why has the marriage of a young couple within a single monarchy, a world away in lifestyle and geography for most, taken hold of our attention, our hearts, and our plans for April 29th in such a remarkable way? Why, by latest account, are over 600,000 people now believed to be travelling to London on wedding day, many sleeping on the wedding route to be able to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds on their way to Buckingham Palace following their vows in the magnificent Abbey? Why will over 2.5 billion be watching the wedding through global media feeds of over 7000 credited journalists and 40 global networks all camped out in the global media village? Why are fashion designers across the globe waiting to see the future queen’s wedding dress, knowing that the much-anticipated creation will define the next decade of design for women across the globe? How did wedding take on literally epic proportions?
Rationale is being articulated in a myriad of creative ways. For some it is a romantic heart. For some, lineage. For some it is a life-long affection in the idea of royalty. For others it is simply an appreciation for history in our modern times. And for many, it is a curiosity in what all the fuss is about.
Ultimately, why we are interested, why we will be watching, does not matter.
What does is that for once the world is being united by the concept of love, the reigniting of hope, the belief in happily ever after.
Media and mementos aside, even the most cynical of royal subjects across the UK and the globe, those still shunning the value of the Royal Family, will be raising a glass in their local pubs on the forthcoming public holiday, proposing a toast to the newlyweds.
Some things need no rationale. The fact that we feel joy is reason enough. Especially joy for others – wherever they may be geographically, socially, royally.
To William and Kate. Long live the power of romance.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011
The first quarter of 2011 has been nothing short of gripping. From political uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, to earth and life shattering natural disasters in Japan, the new year has provided a series of events which have given a whole new meaning to the word “resilience”. How much can a human being endure? How much can be taken before one calls out “enough!”? At what point does the level of the water, be it political or pure H2O, rise too high?
Remarkably, as the challenges have grown in frequency and severity, the people of our world have learned to swim stronger, fight harder, stand taller, and dig deeper, all as the world watches more closely in awe. And often, in inspiration.
When pushed into a corner, be it physically or emotionally, the human response can often be beyond expectation and even comprehension. Some struggle to survive, reaching their limit, ultimately feeling no alternative but to let go – to let go of the struggle, let go of the cause, let go of the life raft. They let go of the fight for life.
But then there are those who simply will not give up. Despite all odds, all logic, all reason, they will not, absolutely will not, give up. This is when the human spirit becomes a force far greater that the physical size may reveal.
January 2011. The year began with scenes of escalating turnout and tension in the centre of Cairo began to define the growing spirit of the region. As emails and alerts heated up the screens and frustrations of protesters across Egypt, the region and the world, the force demanding change grew. Its strength elevated to such a level that, with the earth shaking, a societal and political tsunami occurred. The image of Wael Ghomin speaking to a foreign with tears quietly rolling from his tired eyes, expressing the fierce determination of the people of Egypt to take their country back even at the cost of their lives, will forever be etched into Egypt’s modern history. The force was alive. It was unstoppable. And ultimately it was successful.
And now another tsunami occurs, literally, caused by a beyond-fiction earthquake in Japan. Lives of millions of its people have been dispersed across the broken and battered landscape. Once again the world watches, this time broken hearted, as a nation fights to survive. Through the devastating loss of loved ones and location, across the country the Japanese people patiently and politely start to take burdened steps forward to make sense of the ‘what now’. At the same time, united by a force fueled by a distinctly Japanese show of resilience, teams of technicians put themselves directly in harms way for the sake of national (and international) safety and security, knowing full well that their efforts to contain a nuclear crisis could cost them their own lives. Risk is irrelevant. The force is at work. The result is super-human.
To see the human spirit jump out, and above, adversity with a sense of conviction and determination is remarkably inspiring. And it is infectious. At these moments, there may be onlookers nearby, they may be completely alone. Neither matters, because the entire space is taken up by the almost visible strength of spirit.
Such a moment occurred recently in Berlin at the UNWTO’s press conference at the 2011 ITB global travel and tourism trade show. The stage was as seen before: a convention centre meeting room set up theatre style, all 200+ seats and eyes facing forward towards a length of tables and row of name cards revealed a panel of leading tourism figures. At the helm, Dr Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO.
The backdrop for the stage was, however, entirely new. While the global tourism community was reuniting to discuss the long-awaited rebound of the sector, a handful of tourism destinations reliant on the industry for national growth, development and stability were in a state of upheaval. Most notably, Egypt and Tunisia.
And so, with tourism leaders, professionals and media looking on, in an act of unprecedented tourism community solidarity, and statement of personal conviction, the Secretary General invited Minister Mounir Abdul Nour and Minister Mehdi Houas, the newly appointed Ministers of Tourism of Egypt and Tunisia respectively, to join him on the panel. Respect for their positions and political circumstances left the room silent, waiting to hear something, anything, to fill the void around the ‘what next’.
Expressions of effort and destination promotion were expected from the Ministers of Tourism. What was not expected, and what had those present listening in absolute silence and with intensity of focus, were the remarkable expressions of faith, determination, resolve and vision spoken by both Ministers. Their warm smiles, personal tones and simple words initially disguised a fact that became clear very very soon: within them, within their homelands, the force was growing. And that force was going to create the future that all of their people had always dreamed of. Starting right now.
As expressed by the Minister of Tourism of Egypt, “Let me tell you that since the events started on January 25, Egyptians have regained their freedom, their pride, and their confidence in themselves, their confidence in their ability and capability to regain a democratic, secular, and unequivocal system.” As for the tourism industry, the nation’s lifeblood economically, socially and competitively, the message was clear – his homeland is: “determined to do whatever it takes to regain the confidence of the travelers. We will advertise, communicate, visit, give incentives, we will preserve and defend to keep [Egypt] a golden destination for tourists.”
With similar passion and conviction, the Minister of Tourism of Tunisia made his personal commitment clear to all, later revealing that as soon as the government was overthrown he was give two minutes to decide if he wanted to be Minister of Tourism. He took thirty seconds.
The dramatic force of determination shown by both Ministers of Tourism not only powered their invitation to all to be a part of creating the future of two exceptional tourism destinations – it put tears of inspiration into the eyes and hearts of all present, enabling faith and solidarity to transcend doubt and the demand for supporting documentation. Greater meaning was given to the sector beyond arrivals, receipts, REVPAR and RPK.
Importantly, it reignited the feeling of the pure wonder, joy and need for people to come together, tightly joining arms, around something they fundamentally believe in. This feeling, this flame of determination, must never be extinguished.
These are the moments that turn the mere act of living into a fiery, infectious feeling of being alive. They can happen anywhere – in a press conference, in a peace march, on a public website, at a private dinner table. They are powerful. They are purposeful. And they are unforgettable.
They are a force of human nature.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011
11.02.11, the day Revolution 2.0 and seventeen days of protest brought three decades of dictatorship to an end. The day the world watched another brick of the Arab world’s Berlin Wall fall to the ground. The day tens of thousands of people in Tahrir Square, watched by tens of millions of people around the world, cried out “Today the people own Egypt“. Such a dramatic time, such an incredible achievement. Time to stop, stand still, shut feel the moment, and think of all that is now past.
Because when the people of Egypt open their eyes again and look to the future, a future that starts right now, the concept of owning one’s country will have turned into an active responsibility.
But what does that really mean? How do a people, eighty million in this case, ‘own’ their country?
Importantly, it means that the people of the nation must not just feel a euphoric sense of love and loyalty to the flag, they must demonstrate absolute commitment to the process of rebuilding their nation, working to build a new nation. One by one by one.
For any nation, the start of that process is picking up the fallen bricks of where the wall collapsed. Infrastructure of past regimes needs to be dismantled. New systems, structures and principles of social unification and transformation need to be defined, setting the foundations for the new vision and spirit of the people. And new leadership needs to be identified.
All of this, each new brick, takes time to be put in place. Care is needed to ensure that each new brick connects to the others, sitting firmly, adding strength, joined with shared purpose.
The mortar, the material that holds it all together, determining whether the bricks of the new system and structure will stand firmly to serve its purpose, or will weaken and fall, are the people of the nation. Only the purest of materials can create a mortar strong enough to endure the task ahead: honesty, determination, vision, commitment, confidence, sincere and selfless love of country and faith.
At first, the mortar must find its rightful place amongst the bricks, and then, with time, allowed to solidify and make a meaningful contribution. Brick by brick by brick.
The process of rebuilding will not work unless there is absolute commitment, by each and every national, towards collective creation. And towards collective, ongoing ownership. Ownership will demand not just strength to build, but strength to keep the new structures strong, serving their purpose in serving the people, for now and for the next generation.
To own a country is work, hard work. And unending responsibility.
But for those who have fought for their right to hold a brick in their own hands, and then place it in a position that will connect them to their future, it is the epitome of a labour of love.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011
As soon as a new year begins, suddenly it can feel as though the world is once again opening up. Budget cuts, careful management of the bottom line both at home and in the workplace, were events of 2010. With a new year has come a new freedom to think bigger, think wider, think more feel, especially as economic crisis of 2008/9 (with its hangover in 2010) is now past.
And so the question arises: how will we see the world in 2011?
On the surface that question prompts an answer of travel to places one dreams of visiting on holiday. Or places to explore for new business opportunities. Thoughts turn to planning the where/when/why/with whom.
The year 2011 is, however, already proving to be about more than that. How we see the world is not about plotting itineraries. It is actually about pausing to look closer, look deeper. Because the world which we have always known is changing, dramatically, ever second of every day, everywhere.
Even in places we thought would always stay the same, because they always have, and there seemed no reason for that to change.
At this very moment the streets of Cairo are filling with protesters demanding a future of freedom, fairness, liberation and life deserved. An echo of events in Tunisia just over a week ago, Cairo may also be the precursor of events elsewhere in the Arab world, where the ground feels like it is shaking. Revolution is turning from noun to verb. In Egypt, in a matter of days a 30 year + government has been shaken at its foundations. The DNA of a nation, and region, is changing, politically, economically, spiritually.
And with it, the way we see the world is changing.
At the same time the nation of South Africa has had its foundations rocked with news of the hospitalisation of President Mandela, “Madiba”, “Tata”. The father of the nation, now 92 years of age, was officially unwell. Across the country over fourty nine million South Africans, along with the rest of the watching world, held their breath and whispered prayers for more time. South Africa and the world were not ready to face the future without the leader of their hearts, their conscience, and their belief in miracles. Thankfully the President left the hospital, mercy allowing him more time. Still, a foreshadow of the imminent new reality was felt. The way South Africans would have to see tomorrow, and see the world, without their beloved Madiba, was changing.
And in Davos, as the leaders of the world’s economies and corporate ambitions gather for the 2011 World Economic Forum, together they work to understand and navigate the “New Reality”. The past three years have shaken the foundations of how we see the world as a place of power, place of presumed security, and presumed financial comfort. But the way we see the world has changed. Profoundly.
With that change has come a shift in where we now look to for inspiration. As shared with CNN’s Richard Quest in an intimate one-on-one interview in Davos, Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF confesses that the speakers he is most looking forward to hearing from are “the religious leaders whom we have here, not necessarily the politicians. Because if you want to get inspired I think it has to be based on a kind of change of values, (sic), and we need a kind of reform of our classical approach to what we have responsibilities for.” http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/business/2011/01/24/qmb.davos.klaus.schwab.cnn
The way we see the world in 2011, and beyond, is not about where we travel, where we visit. It is not about stories we share about what we have seen.
Instead it is about where we stand, here and now, and how we look at the world differently. The difference is not just in how the world around us reshapes. But how we open our eyes, and minds, and hearts to look at the same sight with different meaning. It may be with greater compassion. It may be with greater understanding. It may be with greater curiosity.
Whatever it is, it is in our hands. And in our eyes.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011