Inspiration and perspective can arrive suddenly. It can arrive in a moment. Or it can come to clarity long after an event. My moment of clarity came in a classroom months after a life changing visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia. My moment of clarity came as the result of a question that I had been wrestling with for months.
So what was the perspective? In March of 2012, I participated in a MBA Global Study tour in South East Asia that focused on exploring the implications of Globalization. I had traveled before and maybe it was the timing, or the culture and environment, but Cambodia opened my eyes. My experience struck a deep chord with me. The country had some of the most dramatic poverty that I have seen in a very long time, with wood huts on stilts that posed as people’s bare-bone homes. No running water, no electricity, just blanket coverings posing as a front door into the small and empty interiors, no larger than a tree house – sometimes with more than ten people to a family living in this unhealthy condition. Still the people were some of the happiest individuals I have ever met. Everywhere I looked, I saw the people happy in their hardships. And not just one or two, but every single one of them. They all smiled, they all waved – it was incredible!
So what was the inspiration? One morning during the tour, we had purchased bicycles and school materials to distribute to some of the local people. The idea was to drop in and surprise the village without advance notice so as to avoid unnecessary favoritism that sometimes happens with the village elders. I pointed my finger in the direction of three lone huts on the side of the road and said “Let’s stop there.” A widow was standing outside of her hut with her six children taking refuge in the shade beneath the hut. As we drove up, all of the children came out and openly greeted us in French, supposing that we were visiting Frenchmen.
We exited the van, and greeted the family. We asked questions of the woman through our guide and soon found out that the father had passed away a couple of years prior and that they were trying to get by, if only to survive. The poverty and lack of health was evident in the children’s faces. The mother worried of what her children would do, if she, herself, ever became gravely ill. But she still had faith that the family could go on. With all of these obstacles placed before her, and not much different from other families within her community, this woman still smiled and was grateful for what she had. She held fast to what she knew and had faith that she could endure, as did the two other families, who now joined us.
In our group’s excitement, we rushed around to the far end of the van to obtain our meager gifts for the families. When we came back with three bicycles, the feeling we shared, changed all of our lives forever. We knew what we were doing was incredible and would have a tremendous impact on these families as the only means of transportation to them was walking great distances. These bicycles would now become the family’s only means to receive what medical care they could afford. That single moment impacted me deeply. Even now, reliving the experience brings back tears. Had we been able to give them all the clothes off of our backs, or all the money we had, we would have. But we couldn’t, because of the impact it would have had on them and their community. Our guide warned us, if we would have been more generous, their neighbors most likely would have stolen everything from them.
I had my perspective. I had my inspiration. Now what could I do about it? I wrestled with it for months, but understood that I needed to give back to the community in some way that harnessed all of my skills, experience and passion. Then the moment of clarity. What sparked in me that day was: how we could give more? How could we raise the standard of living across the globe? How could we elevate those who lacked education about their health, about their potential as human beings? This single experience got me thinking that none of us are so different from the families we visited in a rural village, somewhere outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia? We all seek after a healthy and happy life. If we could just bring a model for health together into a form that would help improve the global community. This time, it would not come in the form of just a bike, or school supplies that we gave out to random recipients. Instead we would give the world a new way to measure their health and wellness that will enable every individual to be the best they can be.
In that moment of clarity Benessere, Italian for “well-being, welfare and comfort” was born.