So what is this “Catalyst in” thing?

I could pretend to know where all this is going, but I don’t—or even how it started, or why.  I can’t take any credit for how we got here, which was largely, as are most things in life, a series of unconnected accidents, which the order-seeking part of ourselves will then assiduously try to make sense of after-the-fact.  I cannot even take credit for the name, which belongs to Naresh Ramchandani, the Co-founder, with Andy Hobsbawm, of The Green Thing.

We were chatting over lunch one day, and I told him about my upcoming trip to the Balkans.  Naresh said, “this needs a name–how about Catalyst in the Balkans?”  It took me until later that evening to realize this was a double entendre (I am rather slow).  Catalyst, the business, is hosting a trip by me to the Balkans this summer to highlight the best in the region and learn about social enterprise, but as Naresh also saw, it’s about trying to act as a catalyst in the region, to the greatest extent possible.

This adventure, now transformed into an event with a name, moved on to become an institution, when my colleague, Jessica Shortall, announced that she to would be doing a “Catalyst in” trip to Thailand.  Her journey was instigated by PDA, a leading an incredibly innovative social enterprise in Thailand.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine called Angus sent me a wonderful report he had written on innovations in micro-finance in Sri Lanka.  A summary of this report will be published on our website and Angus will become the “catalyst in Sri Lanka.”.  A later chat with my friend Jane revealed her enthusiasm to become a catalyst in another region.  This region is marked by poverty, disease, HIV/AIDS and massive income disparities—it is called East London, and I hope that in time Jane, who works with HIV-AIDS sufferers, and is already a catalyst in East London will become a “Catalyst in” East London.

So you see, this is how institutions are actually born, as opposed to what we later manufacture as the “inspiring” true story.  An idea with no clear purpose is connected to another, creating a trend which then collides with happenstance and ego (?) and takes on a purpose.  To the extent the “Catalyst in” series has a purpose we understand, it is to highlight and study the best and most interesting social businesses and social enterprises from around the world.  In the process, we learn from individuals whose experiences, ideas, tastes, loves, hates and entire world view are more dramatically different from our own than we can possibly fathom.  In the process, one cannot help but learn about oneself, which must be one of life’s great aspirations.  I think that as we progress, those who join us on these journeys, online via our blogs, or physically by accompanying us on these trips as three or four people will do with me in the Balkans this summer we satisfy some deep-seeded needs–to see, to feel, to learn, to experience, to share, and in some cases to try to help.  Welcome to the “Catalyst in” series.

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