September 11th, 2012. Eleven years on, the world pauses to remember, ritualistically, a day that changed the world we know. The terrifying acts of a few changed the lives of all. Losses of lives stand as legacies of conscience, and conviction. Borders remain erased as it is clear that we are all united, regardless of passports and policies.
One day on, flags fly at half mast on US embassies and on the lawn of the White House as, once again, remembrance of loss dominates thought and ache of heart. The loss is not over a decade old, however. It is just hours old. It occurred not on US soil, but in a US-supported nation half way across the world. Libya, a nation recently liberated with the courage of its revolutionaries, has lost one of its greatest allies – the Ambassador of the USA to Libya. Though the rebel attacks that shook the US consulate and took the life of its highest diplomat, three other Americans and numerous Libyans, have ended, the ground is still shaking. The vibrations are felt in Afghanistan, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.
To defuse the shaking and limit the spread of the flames, YouTube has begun to block access to a particular piece of content. The video? A low-budget, independent film produced in the US, carrying a distinctly anti-Islamic message, provoking anti-American sentiment.
As time passes and details emerge, the role of this poor quality, poor taste film is deemed not to the primary spark that has ignited flames of anti-American protests, and possibly even actual attacks. Still, the movie is out there. It was produced. And its fire is spreading, widely and wildly. From Tunisia to Yemen, American flags burn, alerts on foreign embassies continue, fear of further spread of the fire grows. Lives lost. Foreign relations inflamed.
And now, one week on, a week filled with widespread, often deadly protests regarding the anti-Islamic, indy film, a French magazine – Charlie Hebdo – has taken a decision to take a bold step in publishing cartoons depicting, in various provocative ways, the Prophet Mohammed. Its overtly stated desire in publishing the cartoons? To be outrageous.
The response of French officials? Condemning the publication, the French Foreign Ministry closing embassies and schools in as many as twenty nations countries this Friday, the main Muslim day of prayer, as a precautionary measure. The ground is starting to shake again…
Immediately, sharply, the thought emerges: why? Why provoke further fury? Why invite further spread of the flames?
The argument of both the filmmaker and the cartoonist: ‘free speech’. We live in democratic times – freedom of expression is a right.
Indeed. Freedom of expression is a part of our society.
However, does freedom give people the right to consciously offend other people, cultures, communities, without consideration of impact, implications?
Does freedom make recreational journalistic culture-mocking an acceptable course of action? Does freedom allow us to think only of our pleasure, regardless of another’s pain?
What ever happened to the principle of “what good will come of this?“
What we must never, ever forget is that with freedom comes responsibility of freedom. Responsibility for actions. And, in cases such as these, reactions.
Being part of the global community brings with it remarkable strength, access and opportunity. The blessings are far too many to count.
In our uber-connected, fast moving, world – a world with ever increasing understanding of differences and yet inter-connectedness, global citizenry should,
one would hope, increase our sensitivity towards the wellbeing of others. We need to be able to count on one another.
Does “because I can” have the right to step on, and over, others?
There is so much more to be gained through stepping up, and reaching out.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
It seems impossible to imagine – the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are gone. Quite remarkable. Especially considering how impossible the idea of a success Games was for so many, for so long.
The questioning started with the initial speculation of viability of the bid itself: “Will London get it?“…”Should London Get It??” Once host city status was secured, then it moved onto the more practical questioning: “Will London Be Ready?” From security to east London regeneration sensibility, and let’s not forget the matter of legacy, the list of questions was as long as, if not longer, that the IOC’s local project team’s to-do list. With initial teething worked through in pre-Games major events (a royal wedding also acting as a mega-event dry run fit for a queen), and the poorly times and poorly articulated comments of a presidential candidate providing an 11th hour spark to the spirit of the Games, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were underway.
With each passing day, each successful event, and each astonishing gold by Team GB, the awe became more audible. “Oh my goodness, we’ve done it!” Soon, very soon, the awe turned to attitude. “Is this not the greatest Games ever?!”
Unique? Not at all. Ask anyone in South Africa pre-, during and post the 2010 FIFA World Cup. And other mega-events in cities around the globe that were under the international, and local, microscope of speculation, scrutiny and doubt. The questions of “Will it be worth it?” that burdened event execution efforts lifted as, and with, the spirits of host city residents. Pride replaced pessimism. Participation replaced passivity. Sport became secondary to citizen activation.
And then the closing ceremony came, and went. Returning to the scene of 2012 Olympics celebrations, walking the once-decorated streets and travelling the once-packed transport lines, feels like walking back into the room the morning after Christmas. Excitedly removed gift wrap litters the floor. The good stuff is all gone – all that is left is the packaging.
And the memories.
And the looming question of “Now what do we do?”
This is one of the greatest misunderstandings, and miscalculations, of mega-events. The 2012 Olympics were always about so much more than sport for London and the UK. The 2012 FWC was always about so much more than football for South Africa. The end goal is always about so much more than the competition. The business case behind taking on a mega-event is always about an R.O.I. stretches far beyond the final day of the event itself. The bottom line: the event is actually the start of its impact.
While many across London and the UK complain of the Olympics hangover, those who took their vitamin C before the Games, VisitBritain for example, now stand strong and fit, ready to work to achieve the real metrics that matter. The 2012 Olympics are about:
- step-change tourism growth in 2013, 2014, and 2015;
- refreshed destination brand equity;
- increased destination competitiveness;
- maximum leverage of 2012 destination promotion and profile;
- investment into tourism sector alignment, inclusivity, dispersion of benefits and upliftment of offerings;
Will there be immediate declines in post-Games hotel occupancy, summer season retail revenues, and earnings from attractions? Yes, that is a given. As was the case in other major events host cities and nations, be they hosts of the Olympics, Expo, the World Cup or other mega-events.
There are thousands of questions that can be asked, that can challenge the logic of mega-event execution.
But there is one that is the real litmus test: “What if we hadn’t?”
What if, in the case of the 2012 Olympics, London had not bid as host city? What would the airports look like? What would the city centre look like? What would east London look like? What would the spirit of the people, the faces of Brits, look like?
What if they hadn’t??
The 2012 Olympic Games was a massive stimulus package for London and the UK. It provided the host nation with reason to come together to work, to focus, to be productive, to be proud, and to be positive about the future. It is now up to the people of London and the UK – its industries, its communities, its investors, its leaders and its believers – to determine the strength of the R.O.I. of the Games. The spirit of the wider team GB – the people of London and the UK – was what caused the Olympic spirit to burn so brightly in 2012.
Looking back two years to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the same is true.
Mega-events ignite the bright lights and big ambitions of a destination. Mega-events are a fuel – they spark a shared sense of purpose, pride and enduring promise. The massive investment made into mega-events must reap a return. The question, the opportunity, lies in the WHEN.
When will the benefits be realised? Immediately? 6 months on? 1 year on? 5 years on?
In actual fact, there should never be an end-point.
For London, and the UK, now that the 2012 Games have concluded, it is the people of the host nation who are the torch’s enduring flame. Unity, productivity, pride, purpose, inspiration for a new generation – it is all in place.
There is absolutely no reason that the flame should ever be extinguished.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
In a matter of hours, 13 hours, 07 and 26 seconds minutes to be precise – the 2012 OLYMPIC Games will commence in London. The moment has almost arrived – let the games begin! In true British style, the record-breaking sunshine of previous days – Mother Nature’s spotlight on the Olympic torch as it made its way through the streets of London in its final approach – has been swallowed up by cloud. Enter stage right!
As excitement mounts across the UK and world, excitement that continues to take people by surprise, the power of pride once again takes centre stage. Years and years and years of questions, debate, critique and complaint are set aside as the spirit of the moment eclipses the metrics…
It is a natural phenomena. As is always the case with major events, debates unfold around the value of the games – the earnings vs the costs, the projects vs other priorities, the pomp vs the purpose. Why here? Why now? Years of economic impact studies unfold in parallel to development designs. The business case of the games becomes a shield, protecting the team tasked with making the event happen from the attacks.
And then something happens, something completely invisible to the naked eye yet concrete in feeling. It causes even the most hardened of critics to fight the formation of tears when hearing the Olympics anthem fill the air as the torch criss-crosses the streets, waterways, and winding country roads of the host nation. It turns the drabbest of dressers into a bright, bold expression of patriotic colours. It brings complete strangers together in spontaneous embraces when one of their makes their flag, their nation, their people, proud.
National spirit is most powerfully felt, and best celebrated, at major events. The sight of a sea of colour, faces bonded by shared pride and identity, cannot but cause a smile to break on the face of admirerers…and concern on the faces of competitors. The sentiment may, for some, seem simplistic, short-term. Its value, however, goes far beyond the short term spike in retail sales, media coverage, goodwill.
As demonstrated in the city of London over the past 15 months, major events, be they sport, culture, religious, traditions or other, have the ability to unite the hearts and minds of nationals, and nations, beyond all borders, calculations and expectations.
It’s all about pride – the passionate heart of the flame.
Pride is to nations what confidence is to investors: it takes turns ‘maybe, just maybe‘ into ‘just watch us!‘
At a time when the world’s spirit feels bruised from relentless acts of violence and economic ache, the sense of alone-ness growing with little sign of relief, the sight of athletes standing tall in national colours can spark feelings of connection, confidence and compassion. Olympic heroes were not just those taking home medals – they are those able to make the journey as reflections of the heroic quests of their home countries, as showcased by CNN in “Athletes of the Arab Spring” http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/18/sport/olympics-2012-arab-spring-aiming-gold/index.html
At the same time, national pride turns moments of individual wrongdoing into far-reaching shame. Olympians being sent home for drug test failures or racist social media messaging. The colours have been stained. History has already judged these athletes once honoured with wearing the colours of their flags as now undeserving of representing their people’s hopes and dreams.
As simple as the concept of national pride may be, it is a flame which, when allowed to burn brightly with direction, determination and inclusivity, can ignite remarkable achievement.
As the Olympic Games unfold, may the threads of the flags of all nations join together to weave a stronger, more striking canvas of the colour, connection and conscience.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
One month on, any second now, the winner of the Egyptian presidential run-off elections will be announced. History is, once again, being made in Egypt. The world watches…a butterfly is waiting to flap his wings.
Why does this matter? Why indeed.
Egypt, a remarkable nation that for centuries has been a place of people of courage to shape the future, last year inspired the world as Egypt’s 90 million people stood together to take back their country, and once again, their future. Today, as the winds of change of the 21st Century whirl around the globe.
As a result, as Egypt has become an unofficial symbol of possibility of revolution. What happens in Egypt matters at so many levels.
As the world watches, waiting for the official announcement of the winner of the elections (now a few minutes past the 3pm time that the Electoral Commission had stated for reveal), commentators are asking the questions:
- What will happen if it is Morsi, putting the once banned Muslim Brotherhood in the seat of the presidency?
- What if it is military-backed Shafik, a man a part of the previous regime, whose decades-long leader, former President Hosni Mubarak, lies in a prison hospital holding on to life?
- What will the thousands of people in Tahrir Square, anxious for the name to be called, do?
- What will the army do? Will power be able to exit from power?
- What will the revolutionaries do?
- What will it mean for women, for tourism, for investment, for individual freedoms?
The answers to the questions have intense implications on the people, and future, of Egypt.
But the implications do not stop there. Beyond Egypt’s borders questions are being asked with as much intensity:
- What will it mean to national and regional stability?
- What will it mean for the global political and economic community?
- What will it mean for the USA and its foreign policy?
- What about Israel?
- What will it mean for Libya’s imminent elections?
The butterfly effect.
Egypt, seen as the most important nation of the region both culturally and politically has, since the first days of the revolution of 2011, has provided the world with an unprecedented, step-by-step, look into the journey of the steps towards democracy. Today’s 24/7/365 communications world has made it possible for the world to watch change unfolding in Egypt, and the region. As important, social media has made it possible to see, hear and feel the voices, one by one, in their millions.
The butterfly remains sitting still, waiting with the world for the name to be called. The Electoral Commission has stated it will be any moment now…
Insh’Allah, which ever name is called as the future President, may this vote for the enduring spirit of democracy that first came to life in the region during last year’s Arab Spring, be a trusted win for the people, and the future, of Egypt.
May the flapping of the butterfly be gentle.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
In just one more sleep, Egyptians will be waking to the dawning of a new day. A new chapter in the story of one of the world’s most ancient lands is about to be written. The ink is ready. Election day is but hours away.
Tomorrow the sun will shine stronger, brighter. Election day will have finally arrived. And in the 48 hours that will follow, Egypt will make history once more.
For the first time in the lives of many Egyptians, this election day will be one that they actually trust to reflect their votes. Many elders will mark a ballot for the first time, making a real choice, not questioning if it really matters. Egypt’s youth, feeling a particular pride because of their specific role in reaching this day, will mark their ballots purposefully and This time is different. These times are so very different.
Lines will form, thousands of lines formed by millions of citizens, each and every one ready to place their vote, make their mark, play their part. Weaving, weaving, weaving through the streets of the nation, stretching from Lower to Upper Egypt, voter lines will come together in a remarkable re-weaving of the spirit of the flag, their flag. Different people of different views, different backgrounds, different ideologies, different visions of a new Egypt, as different as red, black and white, all coming together.
Egypt’s election is not simply a political process in a country. This event is a symbol of the process of growth that has occurred since the start of the Arab Spring, a worldwide symbol.
Since 25.01.2011, the world has been watching, with hope and prayer. From Tahrir Square to today, the nation’s journey has been one with smooth patches, but also with its times of stones blocking the way and slowing pace, as well as stones being thrown. Looking back, thinking back, events deemed inevitable still inspire awe at their having actually occurred. The courage that it took for Egyptians to stand as one to change the course of their history, their lives, must never, ever be forgotten. Similarly, the courage it continues to take to sustain the journey of national rebuilding with patience, purpose and participation.
Election day is not only a day to look ahead with excitement, it is a day to pause, to be still, to absorb the profound meaning of the here & now. So much will continue to change. Unknowns remain. Choices will be made that many will agree with, many will not. As shared by one of Egypt’s young professionals: “It is exciting nonetheless as for the first time in Egypt’s 7000 year history Egyptians do not know who will be their next leader.”
Insh’Allah, the power of the people will be, and remain, peacefully and purposefully united with the people in power.
With Spring comes new life. The Arab Spring is no different.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
For all of the souvenirs that can be purchased across the world, few things stir up as much emotion as the soundbytes that we take home, packed deeply in our memories, from places visited, people met and moments felt. It is these soundbytes that turn into shared, and reshared, and reshared, stories not only on return to home/office base, but in these times of ever-connected technology.
These moments, these soundbytes, occur during travels of business and pleasure. And often, the most poignant of them are created by complete stranger…people who happen to cross our path and simply open the door, open their knowledge, or open their heart.
A stranger, unlocking a massive wooden door of a centuries old Arabian palace to reveal the secret of the most awe-inspiring view of the Great Pyramids.
A stranger, gently folding back the petals of a lily to teach how to turn a flower into a temple offering. A stranger, standing firm in traffic to make crossing a frenetic city street safe passage.
A stranger, now the source of a precious story.
Random acts of kindness are the moments that turn seconds into soundbytes, soundbytes into stories. They are the stuff that travel blessings are made of…
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
In today’s world of perpetual motion, where borders are erased by flight plans, meeting plans and holiday plans, the distance between desire and destination is getting shorter and shorter. From the perspective of the advancement of civilisations, even though enhancements in health, wealth, security and stability have evolved the human condition to allow for a greater sense of permanence and connection, nomadic life is becoming more a way of life. Especially for people in the global Travel and Tourism (T&T) industry.
Waking in the morning with a moment of hesitation to allow re-orientation has, for millions of professional travellers, become part of the routine that awaits each new day. Hotel rooms become referenced as ‘home’. Business lounges in airports and hotels have transformed into mobile offices. And the ability to move around the world with only carry-on in tow becomes a necessity if peace of mind is to be maintained. Baggage halls are no place to take one’s chances. A one day luggage delay is not an option.
Millions, literally millions, now form this nomadic community that travels around the world. Looking confident and creaseless, these nomads take pride in their ability to go anywhere on a moment’s notice, a lock & go / kiss & go lifestyle perfectly in place, some place known as home. Days, weeks, years easily become a blur, especially when entire days are jumped over with changes in time zones and crossings of date lines.
Yet for all of the globe-crossing busyness that takes over the Blackberry-managed lives of the global T&T community, there are those moments that have the ability to hit the ‘pause’ button. Especially when landing into a city, looking out the window with fresh eyes, and feeling an immediate, unexpected, deeply personal and almost child-like sense of “Oh my goodness, I’m in _____!“
It is these moments of awe that we nomads must never never let pass. These moments of awe are what keeps our sense of place, our sense of wonder, and our sense of blessing intact.
Never, ever should we allow our busyness and feeling of professional purpose eclipse the fact that our profession enables us to travel, often in a day, to places that people wait, plan and save for months to be able to experience.
It is our duty, and honour, to keep the awe carefully tucked in our hearts as a travel essential. The day we lose the awe is the day we must hand in our passports.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
Across the globe, news flashed with chart-topping speed that, sadly and suddenly, music diva Whitney Houston had passed on. A mere 48 years of age, a woman who grew up alongside a generation of now fourty-somethings, would sing no more. She had won her race against abuse of substances and abuse in relationships, but she could not win the race against time that clearly her life’s story was working to. News bulletins, across all forms of electronic and other e-based wires, lit up to express shock, sadness, dismay. They continue with little sign of letting up, with little chance of the world not hearing, caring, responding with news. The news is turning into a musical tribute. And people want to know more – what caused this, why such a loss, why now… ‘how could this be?‘.
At the same time, news wires are carrying the story of untold, ongoing brutalities taking place in Syria under the relentless leadership of President Assad’s. Just days ago China and Russia voted against UN sanctions. Every hour, of every day, across Syria, hearts stop beating, lives stop hoping, time has run out. Shock, sadness and dismay can be heard in debates and political dialogues across the globe. While the UN, GCC, Arab League, EU, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and governments of various leading global nations stand together in their condemnation of events in Syria. The numbers killed by a government lead response to protests inspired by the Arab Spring has reached, according to UN sources, over 7000. This past week alone, Homs has seen fatalities in the double-and triple digits each day. Yet, at a global citizenry level, unless one is seeking out the latest on events in Syria, creating a blind spot to the tragedy unfolding, is very possible. The number of people carrying the torch, questioning ‘how could this be?‘, seems to diminish as each new day passes. The news is turning into white noise.
How does the world, as a collective conscience, determine what matters? Every day events occur. How can it be that some issues experience enduring, global response, and others go unnoticed. The life of one artist ends, sadly, and millions mourn. Thousands of lives end, and few, if any, care to know names. How could this be?
As the world moves forward, it would be so valuable to understand what it is that moves the world. What it is that makes an issue become a global outcry?
What, or who, does it take to make the world care?
To solve this mystery would be to take a massive step forward in leveraging the power and promise of the global community for the genuine good of its 7 billion people.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
January 25th. This day, one year ago, this date became a global symbol of a wave of change that reached out across from Arab nations, to the Eurozone, the Americas, Asia and places across the globe where once silent voices learnt to roar. January 25th, the day Egyptians took to the streets, the day Tahrir Square became a physical and psychological home for millions seeking a future in their homeland, and the day the world’s cameras put the zoom lens on the seeds of global revolution.
One year on, and the power of the people is redefining the people in power, in political, economic and religious centres across the world, redefining where nations are going.
Defining ‘next’, however, begs the question: where are we now?
Changes are underway in nations that had their foundations shaken and shattered in 2011. Once again, Egypt provides a global window through which to view progress and potential of the region. As happened smoothly in Tunisia at the end of 2011, slowly, step by step, the political processes are unfolding, with Egyptians now standing up and stepping forward to make their mark on the new blueprint of the nation. Temperatures have risen, tempers have flared and tests to stability of the process have occurred. Still, slowly, slowly, the process moves forward.
If 2011 taught us anything, it is this: democracy demands participation, revolution demands patience, leadership demands faith, and revolution demands taking responsibility. These truisms cannot be left behind as part of last year’s learnings.
Why? Because the revolutions that occurred in 2011 were not the end, they were only the beginning. And, importantly, there is no guarantee of their outcomes.
The millions who took to the streets in Egypt year ago, swiftly and successfully overthrowing their well-entrenched ruler of over 30 years, now look to the future questioning what will become of their country should the democracy that they fought for vote in leaders that they did not put their ‘X’ beside. What will happen to freedoms of expression, participation, recreation and identity? What if moving forward ends up taking us back?
The same questions can be posed when looking across the globe at other locations of protest. What if the 1% step back and let the 99% take the reins? Are the 99% prepared to deal with the ‘what next?’ Are the Greeks prepared to start paying taxes? Are the Americans prepared to stop living off of credit card based wealth. Are watchful eyes observing illogical financial activity prepared to give their grey hair and gut feelings a voice?
Clearly, protesting is one thing. Participating is quite another.
Across the map, through 2012 , the path to reform, recovery and real stability is just starting to show its first footprints. With each step, careful consideration of consequences is critical. A new rhythm will be found, one that feels right. Especially if we all stand up and face the music.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012
2011 has been a hard year.
Hard politically, economically, socially, environmentally.
This past year has tested our limits in addressing challenges, finding unique solutions to problems beyond fiction.
Most importantly, this past year has tested faith – faith in systems, structures and sensibilities.
And yet through it all, the world has continued to move forward, sparking confidence and belief in possibility even when rationalizing lack of probability.
Step by step, second by second, the world moves forward.
Because it has to.
Regardless of our ages, our ideologies, our beliefs, our battles past, and our war wounds, We need to believe in the possibility of moving forward.
It is like a child’s belief in Santa…
With big big eyes, an open heart and a look of that shows just how much faith is held within that child’s little body, a child approaches Santa knowing he is the one person who can be trusted, whispered to in strictest confidence, to listen to their greatest wishes, and make things right.
As beautifully captured by Jack Sanderson in the recently released documentary “Becoming Santa”, it’s all about the remarkable force of faith.
It is this force that turned 2011 into a year of making history through possibility, and will continue to keep us forward focused in 2012.
To believe is hard, but it is essential. And it is an immense blessing.
Besides, who says there’s no such thing as Santa Claus?
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011