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Jenna Nicholas an entrepreneurial spirit crossing continents

Not three days ago as I watched an Argentinean film at home, there was one exchange, a single exchange of conversation, that etched itself on my memory.

“You once asked me, says one man to his friend, why I keep coming here. I come here because I am passionate about this place… A man can change everything; he can change faces, houses, families, girlfriends, religions, gods. But there is one thing he cannot change: he cannot change his passion.”

That is to overstate matters, but it touched a chord, because living, truly living, is about more than merely subsisting, it is also about coming in touch with that something inside us which moves us, drives us, lifts us, steers us:  a passion that takes us past cold rationalising into the risk of choices that more authentically connect us to ourselves and to others.

ebbf’s Daniel Truran recently shared with me details of his interview with Jenna Nicholas, Social Entrepreneurship Coordinator at the Oxford Hub, who was also visiting student at Oxford University through Stanford in Oxford’s program. Daniel described her as a 21 year old with 40 years’ worth of experiences.

Jenna joined ebbf while studying for her International Relations degree at Stanford University. One imagines a dust cloud in her wake, as in a few years she served as  Social Entrepreneurship Judging Chair for the Business Association at Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES); helped to organize training for Global Health Corps fellows; became an editorial intern at the Stanford Social Innovation Review and organized events to galvanize philanthrocapitalists at the Siebel Foundation in Palo Alto.  Oh, and did I mention her participating in a microfinance education project for migrant workers in Beijing with ValuEd China? I was just drawing breath.

She spent some time doing research for Rob Reich at the Centre for Philanthropy and Civil Society, observed the innovative Barli development project in India, and did “transformation for peace” youth work in Kinshasa, war-torn Congo. When Daniel asked Jenna what success meant to her, she said: “achieving unity between our endeavours, passions and desires, and the action we have on the world.”

Surely such an ambition, such a passion, is recognisable in Jenna’s journey. When asked about her life philosophy, she answers:

“It is a question of totally integrating ethics, morality, business practice and focus – and finding the courage to speak out with conviction even against the backdrop of a sceptical audience. What is constantly amazing is that it works!   For this, the paradox of being strong and perseverant whilst recognizing with humility the source of this strength, is incredibly important… ‘to try, to persevere, is to ensure ultimate and complete victory’”

Her emphasis on perseverance suggests that this is no easy aspiration, that mindfulness is a challenge,  there is resistance, inertia, scepticism to overcome. But perhaps, if this is not just a philosophy, but a deep seated, and constantly nurtured passion, stumbling blocks serve only as stepping stones for progress, since they cannot in the end stop us. We no longer do it simply for the final product, but for the opportunity to invest ourselves in endeavours, efforts, goals, which allow us to become. Jenna speaks of focusing on process, “as things may not quite turn out as we wish… when obstacles come up perseverance and determination are needed, but also being flexible and adaptable enough to recognize and potentially change our approach.

One thing that helps a flame grow, is proximity to another flame. One of the most exciting things about ebbf, is that it brings a remarkable collection of passionate people into virtual or physical proximity with one another. While our areas of activity are widely differing, so that Jena’s CV might not relate at all to the specific work one of us might do, yet we are united in a common passion: trying to improve the world by improving ourselves and trying to improve ourselves by improving the world.

There is Jenna shared,  wonderful passage from the Bahai writings that sums up my attitude towards the work I am doing. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.

Is a passion for service and inner growth contagious? Can being exposed to one another’s enthusiasms, and how specifically they are put into practice, release or intensify our own motivation, even if it concerns a different area of endeavour? Do share your own experiences.

As for me, perhaps it is time to seek out someone that inspires me nearby, and have a meal, a drink, a walk, and ask them where their adventures have taken them recently. Even if their road is not my own, something of their motion might be added to my own.

Keep daring.

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