January 24, 2012

Open up to the endless possibilities of the world

My modern life history, so I’ll call it, began at age fifteen. I fell in love with a girl from California.

Yea. So. What happened?

Since that brief little love episode, I’ve scooped ice cream and delivered pizza in Connecticut, been a marketing intern in New York City, a student in Delhi, India, and a sustainability evaluation intern in Kathmandu; A festival organizer, corporate social responsibility manager, mobile fundraising manager, organization founder, surf bum and concert photographer in California; A journalist, photographer, consultant and business development director in East Africa. I’ve presented at national conferences, hunted with pygmies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, photographed the Dalai Lama, and chewed Miraa on a sorry excuse for a bus filled with Somali refugees.

Now, as the pages of my life and this little piece continue to be written at just twenty-four, I find myself sitting comfortably at a cafe in the pulsing heart of my newfound home, Nairobi, Kenya.

I say this not to boast accomplishments, blow my own horn, or impress the masses. In fact, I says this because it’s not what I’ve done which is important — it’s what has brought me to all of these exciting points in my life.

It’s people. Lots of people.

An endless string of chance encounters, fortuitous conversations, serendipitous meetings, lucky run-ins, fateful circumstances, divine interventions. Call them what you may, but whatever they may actually be, there is one definition that can fit them all: Opportunities.

It’s these connections that have shaped my world, and in fact, shape the world we live in today. They push and pull us in directions we could never anticipate, stretch and bend us in ways that we never thought possible. They build the fabric of our world. They make it move. But only if we recognize them.

A revolution is every day. It’s in every person you meet. It is an encounter where you keep your mind, soul, body, and spirit open to the endless possibilities of the world, and wherever your fellow passengers on this great round spaceship of earth might take you.

It is, as Dan Eldon once wrote, living ‘Safari’ as a way of life. “Safari is about constant play, constant curiosity, constant resourcefulness. It’s a perspective on life, a life lived in eternal exploration.”

My life has taken so many directions simply because I’ve kept myself open to the people I meet, and the possibilities they held. If I hadn’t fallen in love with that girl from California, I probably never would have wanted to move there at 18 (though not for her). If I hadn’t stumbled into the wrong classroom as a freshman in college, and opened myself to the dreadlocked visionary inside, I may have never stayed in California, organized festivals, or become deeply involved in issues of sustainability, which brought me to live India.

If I hadn’t stumbled into a random garage sale in Los Angeles, and asked, and more importantly listened to, why the woman was selling all her things, I never would have landed myself in east Africa a month later. If I hadn’t taken a last minute meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, and followed the string of connections that resulted, I never would have met the person who helped inspire my journalism career.

Revolution is whatever you want it to be, and it’s wherever you want it to go. It’s there, waiting for you. And the people you meet, from the mundane to the most inspiring, are the ones who will unlock it, break it open, or help you find it.

Take a look at where you sit now. Who brought you here?


Jonathan Kalan, founder of The (BoP) Project, is a journalist, photographer, and blogger specializing in social business & innovation in emerging markets. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in just 24 years he has traveled to over 35 countries, worked in South Asia and Africa, and collaborated with nonprofits, social enterprises, technology start ups, and media companies. His photography/writing has recently appeared in Global Post, The Boston Globe, GOOD, Financial Times, The Star (Kenya), Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, and several others.

Jonathan is currently freelancing from Nairobi, Kenya. His most recent series, The New Capitalists, explores a new generation of social entrepreneurs reshaping the fundamentals of capitalism and turning the global narrative of ‘pity’ towards the poor into vast economic, social, and innovative potential. He is a Staff Writer for NextBillion.net, a regular contributor to Dowser.org, and a Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards 2011 Finalist.