Inspiration, that is what people need. Someone who inspires them to see a different reality than their own and to set new goals for the future.
We can inspire change by asking people to return home. People that have travelled the world and made a life for themselves somewhere else. We can ask them to give back. Everyone needs someone to look up to, and even if Angelina Jolie is a great UN Ambassador, she is definitely not a local.
Say you live in a village in Thailand or Tanzania, and you know only your own context and reality. You and your family have a disadvantage and you struggle to have food on the table. Your neighbours’ child got a scholarship to study overseas and you see them leave, but you stay.
You hear stories about them studying at university, but you are not sure what that means. You do not know much about it because that person never returns, and their experience is not shared. You move to the city when you are old enough to work, like every other child in the village, except the ones that left.
Extreme poverty has decreased a lot over the years. In 2013, 767 million people lived on less than 1.90 Dollars a day. That is a 24 % decrease since the 90s. This means we have seen a change for the better on a global scale. The change is about income and poverty alleviation. But the story I want to tell is about structural change and inspiration.
You see, structural change is about life quality, not income. It captures the things that make people dream, hope, inspire and change. When we travel the world we understand ourselves better, because we see new contexts. This requires us to reflect and question our own values. People that have had the opportunity to experience this will know what I mean, but not everyone has.
Teachers, doctors, policy makers, lawyers and similar people daily shape our societies. They have a good education and they are knowledgeable individuals. But they are also the result of the same environment. That environment consists of similar education and training, inspiring no change. Some of them might travel to other cities and others might travel to a neighbouring country. But few will experience another culture.
Cultural exchange is a powerful experience and with globalisation it has become easier. But tourism alone is not enough because the exchange is not always deep enough.
We need a platform for people who want to give back to the society and engage. A way for people like the neighbours’ child to return home and work, even if they have a good job overseas. It will not be about money and it will not be about a career, but it will be a good deed. These are the people who know both cultures and they can be the normative change the society needs.
I got sick in Thailand one time and had to go to the hospital on one of the islands. It was a very small but friendly hospital. The owner of the clinic was British but the head surgeon was a middle-aged Thai man who had studied and trained overseas. We talked about Sweden during one of my many visits and he told me that he would like to move there one day. There was not much left for him in Thailand, he said, and I could relate to that feeling of needing a change. In my mind though, I could not help but disagree with him. If he had not been there on that island, my surgery might not have been as successful as it was. I was lucky to have him, and so are other people.
This man was well educated, knowledgeable and had perfect english, and this was exactly why he had to stay.
Knowledge is transferable, but we need to invest in people who want to stay and make a difference. Countries like Thailand need this. People need inspiration. Even if a doctor like him is more useful in a public clinic, he is doing good where he is, and I hope he stayed.
It is not about keeping people from pursuing a better career. It is about bringing the experience back home and paying it forward. We need to see more people giving back to the society that shaped them. And if that society treated them bad – then they have to help change it. Use that experience to inspire change and make others find a reason to return.
We need to see more of this.