One intriguing thing about these people, is their art of connecting with people and influencing them to create impact on society. Every once in a while we hear about someone or ‘The Savior’ coming up with an idea and bringing a change. I have always been interested to know what kind of people are they? Are those the ones with serious attitude and who mean business all the time? Someone with sheer determination? A disturbed person with a past. The answers are confusing and every ‘Savior’ I met, has a different story and a different answer.
One of the ‘Saviors’, I happen to connect with Jay Jaboneta. Yes,Jaboneta, the person who got bothered by the fact that some kids missed school to go swimming while others swam to go to school. Here is a short interview of guy who founded the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, Inc.
Shayan: How would you define yourself?
Jay: I believe each one of us want to make a difference in the world. That somehow how little it is, we are contributing in making the world a better place. It’s hard to define oneself as we must always strive to be better everyday. I see myself as an enabler, someone who wants to empower people, to enable them to achieve their potential in life. It’s my belief that there’s a genius in each one of us.
Jay: I used to walk 10 minutes to go to school. The moment I heard of kids who have to swim to school, it really disturbed me, it shocked me! It moved me to do something about it. Initially, I just wanted to share their plight and friends commented after that we must help them and that’s how the Yellow Boat project started. And it made me realize that a single Facebook status can make a difference. Almost everyone is on social media, maybe not just Facebook, but people are online using email, Google and other services which are basically for free. We can harness these new tools for social good, to make a difference in the world. I always say that it was the kids who inspired me to be better, to do better in life — we often hear of kids who skip school to go swimming but here were kids who went swimming so they can go to school. It bothered me.
Shayan: How would you compare JayJaboneta of year 2000 to the JayJaboneta of year 2014?
Jay: Everyone grows with age. I believe I am more mature this time around and I take my time now before taking action. Sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture when we just focus on what’s in front of us. Sometimes we have to take a step back and reflect on things. Life is never about the destination, it is about the journey. I mentioned earlier that most of us want to make a difference, want to contribute something to the world. I believe, we also want to enjoy the journey, so it’s important to keep our feet on the ground. I read once that someone said success is harder to manage than failure because when you fail you can always bounce back, you can learn from your mistakes, you can be better — when one is successful, sometimes we don’t want to move anymore, we have become comfortable and we no longer want to try new things, that is where I am watching myself. When I stop trying new things, when I stop trying new ideas even stupid ideas that is the day I die. Steve Jobs once summarized that belief when he said that if there are 6 consecutive days when his answer is no to what he is doing, it means something is wrong — it’s important that we consciously see how we can make things better — how we can add more value in serving others. If you are going to ask me what is the biggest thing I’ve learned — I will answer you that it’s about HOPE, that hope is tangible and the only thing that ever moves us, that keeps us moving, is a sense of hope, of a better tomorrow. And one way that we can ensure that, a better tomorrow, is to keep moving and keep on working and keep on making a difference.
Shayan: What’s your biggest failure in life and what did you learn from it?
Jay: I have stop really calling them failures. They are learning moments, these so-called failures are experiences that teach us lessons in life. One of the toughest moments in my life was back in university. I first took up Computer Science because I wanted to go abroad and the West was heavily recruiting computer programmers and IT specialists in the early 2000s and I wanted to seek greener pastures outside the Philippines but I really hated it and I failed in two major subjects. I was forced to shift to another course but I felt rejected and I left school. I went home and our family had a farm in the countryside and I went there and lived there for a year. I learned how to plant rice, I learned how to climb a coconut tree, I learned about farming and how farmers lived there. That experience taught me so many things. It gave me so many insights about life and how we’re all connected. That experience taught me that no matter how down you are in life, you can choose to get back up. Happiness is a choice, it’s a decision, it’s a state of mind that you have to choose. I went back to university and took up Management Accounting and that led me to where I am today. Looking back, I have no regrets. As Master Oogway in Kung Fu Panda said ‘There are no accidents.’ Though it sounds fatalistic — we always have a choice to see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty.
Shayan: If you could travel back in time, what three life decisions would you make?
Jay: I’m not really someone who would want to second guess myself. I believe that we’re all on this planet for a reason. But just to go along with this, if I could travel back in time, I would probably play more sports in school. I concentrated a lot of academics and failed to participate in sports activities and also learn how to play a musical instrument. I want to change that if I can.
Shayan: One thought that keeps you going?
Jay: A story about an egg, a carrot and coffee beans. Life is sometimes hard and we face challenges and difficulties. It is very much like being inside hot water. But you can choose how to respond. An egg would harden in hot water. A carrot would soften in hot water. But coffee beans, they’re different, they’ll change the composition of the water. So think about that. You can always choose how you want to respond to any given situation. To add, one thing that keeps me going is coffee. 🙂
Shayan: How does it feel to see the people benefitting from the Yellow Boats?
Jay: It feels good to be able to help somehow but it’s also not easy. Many of the communities we’re helping are still poor and are struggling to feed their families. Doing this, it feels like, it’s never going to end. There’s always going to be people who need help. And I’m confident that there’s always going to be people who will help — if there’s one thing that I’m really grateful, it’s our donors and volunteers who are truly doing the work on the ground. I just tell their amazing generosity and stories.
Shayan: Where do you see yourself and the extent of impact that you are creating in 10 years?
Jay: I hope that we would be able to scale our efforts and make our impact sustainable. As for myself, I hope I will be able to inspire more of the youth to take up the challenge of trying to solve big societal problems. We are the most empowered generation in history. I honestly believe our generation can end extreme poverty. We can end it in 20 or 30 years — if only we unite and together help more people and communities. I feel deeply passionate about this — if there is ever a generation that can end it, it is ours.
Jay: You must have heard this a lot by now but I would say you can never really judge a book by its cover. I have to admit before coming to Pakistan, as an Acumen Fellow, I was afraid because of all the negative news that we read or see on TV about Pakistan. But once I landed in Lahore and went around the town, I felt a sense of wonder that you’re no different from other countries in the world – we’re all just trying to make sense of our existence, why we’re here on earth. Sure, there are bad elements, but so does each country. The first time I went to a market in Lahore, someone paid for my first cup of chai. It was amazing!
Shayan: What advice would you give to people who want to be entrepreneurs?
Jay: There is no better advice than the 3 letter word from Nike ‘JUST DO IT.’ You’ll never learn until you try, and you’ll never succeed until you’ve failed. So keep trying. There’s a famous saying that states ‘success seems to be a matter of hanging on when others have let go.’
Shayan: A message to the global youth.
Jay: Never stop learning.
Life is all about learning. But too many of us, after we leave formal school, we also stop learning, stop listening, stop paying attention to opportunities to learn from others.
There are teachers everywhere!
The same question applies toJaboneta as ‘The Savior’. What kind of a person is he? How does he connect with people and what causes him to bring the change? The answer is different for every person. What matters is, that answer should be influential enough for an individual to motivate and enable him to make a difference.
Shayan Ahmed is General Secretary at Markhor’14 – Wilderness based Leadership Conference. He tweets at @shayanahmed1993