Journeying towards meaningful work

A new eight-day workshop visiting social enterprises in India is designed to propel career-sick individuals into meaningful work. Aaron Millar chats with the founder, Rosie Walford

Aaron Millar: What is Be the Change Journey?

Rosie Walford: Be the Change Journey is eight days in India visiting people who have pioneered social change organisations.

It’s both an outer journey, to visit the different types of social organisations, and an inner journey in which we help those people work out what their values are, what they’re passionate about, and how the world might pay for the kind of work they’re interested in doing.

On your website you talk about helping people find meaningful work – what do you mean by that?

There’s a psychologist called Laurence Boldt who says: “To the extent that your work meets the needs of the world it will be meaningful. To the extent that through it you use your talents it will be joyful.” Meaningful work is about using what you’re good at for something that you deem important or purposeful. That’s what gives people the desire to get up in the morning. It’s the match of your values with your talents.

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Do you think people are increasingly seeking this kind of life shift?

The real excesses of consumerism are wearing thin and it’s becoming transparent that it’s ultimately an unfulfilling game, so it’s more of a common need now. I think publications like Positive News are making it known that there are other ways, and it’s not such a stark choice between working for a charity and working for a business. So, yes, it’s just a much wider space.

One of the things we’re really interested in at Positive Travel is the idea of personal development through travel, that special psychological conditions are created when we go on a journey, is that part of the ethos behind what you’re doing?

It’s a really large part. A lot of people want to make a change in their career and they spend years not doing it. But when they travel, and immerse themselves in something completely different, there’s a chance for real change to happen. You can follow a thread of thought inside you until something pops.

But it’s very easy to have high ideas when you’re away. If you really want something to shift when you get home too, then you need to ground the high ideas you’ve had while travelling and turn them into time based action plans for when you get home. Two days at the end of the process is all about bringing everything back to reality – otherwise when you get home and back to your normal life it’s all wiped away.

So let’s talk about the course – what happens on the geographical, outer journey across India?

We start in Ahmadabad, where Gandhi had his ashram, and that’s also the first project we visit. We also visit a project that is all about the gift economy and by the end of the first day the participants end up being waiters and waitresses in a gift economy café.

We then move to Mumbai and are led through Asia’s biggest slum by guides who live there and are part of a reality tours outfit. So they show how the slum is actually a very illustrious place and how they put the money from those tours into local slum schools and education projects.

There are lots of other visits but finally we end up in Goa in a private villa with a beautiful swimming pool, and gardens, and try to make sense of it all. The journey is intense stimulation, intense diversity, a packed schedule and then the space in which to make sense of it all.

And what about the inner journey?

We’ve come up with a model of three major areas that we address – we see it as a bit of a jigsaw.

The first piece is about discovering what your passions are. We ask what the problem is they want to address, what is the change they want to see? It also involves looking at which business models they want to work in – do they want to fundraise and be in a charity, do they want to be in a self-sustaining social enterprise? Then there’s a whole chunk about what makes them feel fulfilled at work. What motivates you? For example, take one area, like hunger – you could be someone who wants to work in a soup kitchen, you might want to organise those nationwide, or you might want to work more abstractedly on government policy. So it’s about recognising what level you naturally gravitate towards.

Another piece of the puzzle is about asking: what do I bring? We look at what people’s natural aptitudes are. We have people map their networks, allies and resources to understand if they can draw a map from where they are now to the issues they care about in the world. It’s about working out how what you know now fits with the issues you care about.

The third piece is what does the world need and pay for. So we really pull apart the projects we visit and work out exactly how they are run, how they are funded and how they are creating the change they want to see in the world.

Do you have any success stories you can share?

We’ve had the most amazing job shifts. People who gave up being IT managers in a horrid company and have taken their entire family to Cambodia to run computer lab projects there. A guy who was miserable in a merchant bank and has left to start a state fund that invests in positive impact projects. There are two or three people who are now working in social incubator projects around the world. It’s quite remarkable to see.

Rosie Walford is the founder of Be The Change Journey, an eight-day trip across India designed to accelerate your shift into meaningful work. The next Be The Change Journey starts on 14 November, with additional workshops scheduled throughout 2015.