Ru En

Running Towards the Future

Ruben Vardanyan Aurora Humanitarian Initiative
Source: The World

Anthony de Mello has a simple parable about a snail beginning its climb up a cherry tree on a windy day in late spring:

The sparrows on a neighbouring tree had a good laugh at his expense. Then one flew over and said, “Hey, blockhead, don’t you know there are no cherries on this tree?” The little fellow did not stop as he replied, “Well, there will be when I get there.”

The little snail knows what it wants, not doubting that, by the end of its long journey, the cherries will be ripe. To the mocking sparrows, its path is absurdly long. They don’t realise that the path to perfection couldn’t be otherwise.

Here’s someone whose dream has never changed: he’s always wanted to change lives for the better – not only his own, but those of the people around him. And he knows for himself that the path from the yesterday’s thinking to tomorrow’s thinking is in "the long run." Ruben Vardanyan, impact investor and social entrepreneur, shares his thoughts on this and many other things.

As a man of the world, I live on an airplane. Most likely everyone, taking off from the ground, is familiar with the feeling of gaining altitude. On the one hand, you realise what a huge expanse is below you, as if the horizon were expanding. On the other, everything grows miniscule. And it turns out that space is playing hide-and-seek with you, not wishing to reveal its true essence, hiding the details.

It’s reminiscent of the nature of space and time in the 21st century. The world has suddenly turned out to be unexpectedly small – any geographical point can be reached. Time rushes ahead with such a speed, a whirlwind of political, scientific, technological, and social changes. The new rapidly becomes the familiar. That is, we live in an era of constant uncertainty, where the main quality is the ability to adapt. At the same time, we aren’t at all prepared for the reality that the majority of responsibility in this new changing world, as well as the choice of our path, is placed on our individual shoulders. In addition, we’ve practically lost the protection of commonplace institutions (the state, the church, family, international organisations), which are in crisis and aren’t capable of responding to global challenges. Not trusting the fundamental institutions, we place trust in people and communities, united in the systematic chaos that is social networking. We have the opportunity independently to determine vectors of movement – both for ourselves and for our communities – and we’re not limited in our choice of ideals, life priorities, or spheres of activity. Thus, we’re forced to make more independent decisions and we must be responsible for their consequences.

Klaus Schwab, founder of the Davos Forum, believes that "talentism" will replace capitalism. Creativity and innovation, rather than armament, natural resources, or capital, will be the driving force in the "era of adaptation," as he calls modernity. What prevents the process of transitioning to "talentism," to a world where an individual is of the highest value? The mentality, probably, that determines the degree to which we’re able to adapt to change. A person can be interested in the new, but often experiences stress when changes and uncertainty actually occur. Unable or unwilling to adapt, people yearn for their former sense of security, when it was all decided for us – who we want to be, what path we’re going to take, and even what books we read. But it’s a challenge that’s so important for us to accept – to learn to leave our cocoons, to go beyond our comfort zones.

We live in a really strange time. On the one hand, we have fantastic opportunities, on the other, people aren’t always willing to take advantage of them and are scared to take their lives and the fate of the world into their own hands. One extreme results in globalisation and the erasure of all borders, the other in localisation and the desire to remain locked inside a bubble at all costs. The only way for us to get through these stormy changes is to understand that you’re a person of the world. You’re responsible for it, you’re the integral component, and at the same time you recognise your own uniqueness, a part of your unique identity, with its own origins and ancestral roots.

New creations aren’t born at extreme polarities, but at the middle ground. It’s natural therefore that glocalisation, a balanced coexistence of multidirectional trends, should emerge as a viable alternative to globalisation, which deprives people of an individual identity, and localisation, closed as it is to the rest of the world. There’s nothing new in the concept of "glocalisation." Some consider themselves cosmopolitans, citizens of the world; others inextricably link themselves with a certain territory, nation, or religion. But there are also those who consider themselves bound to everything that happens in the world and at the same time they know who they are, where they come from, and what their roots are, and they’re proud of it. I’m confident that the future is for those with a glocal mentality. Today, anywhere in the world, you can create an innovative centre, a project that can change the fate of the world.

The percentage of glocal people in the world is still rather small. Society is still dominated by “local" people who live in their own space, leaving it seldom and only reluctantly. In the US, for example, about half of citizens haven’t left their own state, let alone the country. Out of Russia’s 150 million citizens, only 16 million have international passports, and only five million have been abroad in the last year. All the same, the world today is moved precisely by glocal people.

The glass is either half empty or half full – it’s a matter of how you perceive life and the world. By and large, we don’t have a huge repertoire of different behaviours. You’re either the object of change, or else you’re the subject. You can try to fence yourself off from the world and hide away in your own bubble. You can be aware of the changes around you and try to adapt to them, sensing your inability to influence anything. But you can also become the engine of change based on the resources you have. People tend to choose whatever will make them the most comfortable. And yet I’m sure that anyone can influence the future of the world.

For me and others who think like me, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative has come to represent one of the means of influencing the world. The project’s origins are in its founders’ family history, including that of my own. Aurora is Gratitude in Action. Created on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, it seeks to empower modern-day saviors to offer life and hope to those in urgent need of basic humanitarian aid and thus continue the cycle of giving internationally. There are many horrors and injustices in the world. Many believe it’s the duty of the government and international institutions to combat them. But there exist people who will assume an active position, who believe that we ourselves can and must do something so that crimes against humanity won’t be repeated. I hope that Aurora helps people understand that each of us is able to cause shifts in attitude towards humanitarian problems worldwide, that society’s passive sympathy should transform into action.

The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity recognises modern day heroes and the exceptional impact their actions have made on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes in the face of adversity. The first prize was awarded in 2016 to Marguerite Barankitse. She saved roughly 30,000 children and took care of orphans and refugees during the years of civil war in Burundi. When the war broke out, Marguerite, a Tutsi, tried to hide 72 of her closest Hutu neighbors to keep them safe from persecution. They were, however, discovered and executed, while she was forced to watch. In spite of this, Marguerite continued to help, guided by her own values that considered it important to save people from cruelty and violence. "When you have these values of compassion," she says, "nothing can stop you."

The threat to personal safety didn’t stop Dr. Tom Catena either. He is the sole doctor permanently based in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, home to about 750,000 people. When the fighting began, he was encouraged to evacuate, but he insisted on staying. Humanitarian aid scarcely reaches this region at all. “Dr. Tom,” as he’s affectionately known , is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, treating up to 500 patients a day. Such has been his life for the past nine years. Dr. Catena has to do more than a thousand operations every year. An American, he went to a foreign country, where he had no relatives or acquaintances and nothing to connect him to the place. Nothing, that is, except the people who needed him. It’s important for him to help them survive in the dire conditions of war. And it’s necessary for the world to learn about such people.

Aurora helps bring these inspiring stories to millions of people. Award nominations include those who perform an extraordinary act of humanity, and are submitted by filling in the online form at the official Aurora Prize website. Eighteen experts from different countries then assess the nominations, after which a list of 25 candidates is compiled. Members of the Selection Committee review a shortlist of candidates, drawing upon their own expertise, nomination forms and additional information assembled by the Secretariat to determine the Aurora Prize finalists. The entire selection process is supervised by the Aurora Prize’s Independent Observer. There are no losers or winners; rather, the laureate of the prize is just given the opportunity to do a little extra.
For the 2018 Aurora Prize entries were submitted from 115 countries. It goes to show that the situations in which people show their best qualities happen all over the world. And there’s such joy in finding out that the actual stories of people saving others in all sorts of places manage to surpass even what you could imagine. So it has been and always will be.

Maybe if each of us leaves our familiar comfort zone without fear of exposing our face to the wind of change, maybe if we trust ourselves to determine our horizons in this strange and beautiful world, at once tiny and infinite, then our fear of change will disappear. Because, doing so, we learn how to shape the present and create the future.