I came from a business lunch today with a NASA colleague and Mikkel Vestergaard of Europe-based Vestergaard Frandsen, a unique company that manufactures disease-control textiles. I met Mikkel at our March LAUNCH: Water forum at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mikkel served as one of our LAUNCH Council members.
Quick back story for Mikkel. He comes from a textile-manufacturing family in Denmark. At 19, he sought adventure in Africa where he founded a trucking company. Political instability sent him packing back to the family business, but his experience ignited a passion for Africa. In a few years, he turned the company from uniform supplier to humanitarian relief products. Pretty amazing story. WIRED featured his story in April.
Passion Statement from the Vestergaard Frandsen website:
By innovating products and concepts focusing on preventable diseases like malaria, diarrhoea, HIV/AIDS and neglected tropical diseases, we turn our commitment into action. We innovate for the developing world, rather than developing products for wealthier regions, and then trying to adapt to those who actually need them the most.
Mikkel is in town participating in the Women Deliver conference. We were fortunate to catch him on the run between events. We’re busy planning our next LAUNCH sustainability event. Mikkel will be working with us to make it an even greater success than the LAUNCH: Water forum.
I write this today because I’m stirred by his commitment to make the world a better place by focusing his “profit for a purpose” business strategy toward the creation of innovative “life-saving products for the developing world.” He cares about people in need, and he’s poised his company to take swift action in partnership with government, non-profit and profit entities.
His heart for Africa touches close to our family. My aunt and uncle serve as missionaries in Zambia, and my youngest daughter, Steph, moves to South Africa in the next few weeks.
Mikkel asked how I feel about Steph’s decision. My answer, as always, “I’m thrilled.”
Steph will spend the next year (or more) working with the Bethany House Trust victim empowerment program. Bethany House was established in 1998 to provide shelter, primary health services and education to young people in crisis. Steph, who just received her graduate degree in Community Counseling, will counsel kids who have untreated trauma. She specializes in Play Therapy.
So my question: Is social responsibility innate or nurtured?
What makes some of us comfortable with a cosy little routine that never changes? What makes some of us rush out in the world to make change happen?
I’m dying to be one of those out there changing the world. Life placed me here at home helping others go out into the world. Some work with villagers out in the bush country. Some type on a computer in a government cubby hole. (Yeah, that second description would be my reality.) But, how cool for me to rub shoulders with a cool world-changer like Mikkel, and support my daughter as she reaches out to help those who can’t help themselves.
With our new LAUNCH sustainability forums, I get to help change the world from right here in DC. With our ten disruptive innovations, we hopefully throw a life-line to our planet. One small step…. Oh, I won’t even go there.
Whether or not the desire for social responsibility is born or grown, we should nurture it where we can. Feed it. Water it. Prune it. The needs are too great to be born by the few. Each of us can find small (or HUGE) ways to contribute. Be creative. Make it your own — like Mikkel did with his family’s business.
If you’re out there changing the world already, send me postcards (or twitpics). I’d love to travel along virtually. God speed!