YouTube is packed with videos created by business gurus who offer us tips on how to find business success. I’ve never really been a fan of these virtual mentors myself as I think that the essence of entrepreneurship lies somewhere between the ability to self-motivate and the courage to pursue your own path.

That said, there is nothing better than an encounter or experience that inspires you and enables you to reach for the stars. I’ve come to learn that these moments usually arrive unexpectedly or even improbably. Here are two that have remained etched in my memory:

An Indian escapade

At age 17 I had the opportunity to make an exceptional trip to India to discover the work of a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

This NGO (created and managed by Indians) was operating in the Rajasthan desert for gender equality. Not an easy task in such a remote region where a few archaic customs remained, such as child marriage from the age of 3.   

In order to change mores while respecting local communities, the NGO offered to build schools for the children in a dozen villages. Schoolteachers in India have an almost Godly status, as they hold the key to education.

In exchange for this investment, there were two conditions:

  1. The villagers had to elect a girl or woman from their village to become the future school teacher. Intensive lessons were provided to enable the future teachers to master reading, writing and mathematics while the schools were being constructed.
  2. Complete parity between students (50% girls and 50% boys).

The impact of this initiative was amazing. From then on, the most respected members of these communities were women and both girls and boys receive the same level of education.

This experience profoundly influenced me. We ( the people) have the power (and the duty) to initiate meaningful change in our own communities. We don’t have to wait for the government to impose change from the top down.

Two hitchhikers

I was driving my Volkswagen Caravelle on the seafront between Antibes and Nice in 2015. After dropping some clients off at their hotel, I set off towards Nice “empty”. Along the way, I passed two hitchhikers. They had friendly faces and I had a huge van all to myself, so I picked them up. ( Yes I know, it’s dangerous…)

Thomas and Joris were young Belgians. We chatted for a while and they asked me why I had such a big van. I handed them my business card. On the front of my company card is written:

“A smile…a shared story…a shared experience. Nothing is more powerful than positive human interaction. It is these simple things that make a day special.”

We were kindred spirits! They had both left their jobs in Belgium to live a human adventure: hitchhiking around the world in search of a meaningful life and learning through their encounters about the vision of human beings, their values and the meaning of their lives.

The 30-minute drive from Antibes to Nice was far too short for such an interesting discussion, so I lent them my small studio and we arranged a dinner to discuss the subject further.

I also invited my mother, an authentic hippie who hitch-hiked a lot in her youth. Our new friends cooked a feast of Belgian specialities and we shared a couple of bottles of local wine.

It was an evening full of exciting and diverse conversations but there was one concept that stood out and has stayed with me ever since… « Meaningful Work ». The idea that work can and should have a deeper meaning and impact than a simple product or service. After all, we spend more than half our lives at work, our job is often an integral part of our identity, so isn’t it essential that this time has a meaning beyond simply “earning a living”? I already had this philosophy in my company “Friend in France”, but putting words to it has helped me to never losing sight of my goal of giving a human and even a social meaning to all the projects I undertake. FRED is the product of this reflection.    

Which people and/or experiences have influenced your life?