In 2007 Shawn Ahmed, a 29 year old Canadian from Toronto, heard the lecture that changed his life.
By many people’s standards, Shawn was on the cusp of “making it”… his parents, Bangladeshi immigrants, had worked hard, as had Shawn to get him to where he was at — a graduate student on scholarship at the prestigious University of Notre Dame. And then he went to hear Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, twice listed by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, talk about his book, “The End of Poverty.”
“Sachs talked about how it’s our generation’s responsibility to end poverty,” said Shawn. More than inspired, Shawn felt called to do something. He quit graduate school, packed his bags, grabbed his laptop and camcorder, withdrew the meager savings he had, and flew to Bangladesh to see how he could make a difference. Shawn acknowledges that not everyone in his family understands and supports what he did next…in fact, some of them probably thought he’d lost his mind.
He didn’t have an MBA, he didn’t write a business plan, he didn’t start a nonprofit, he didn’t start working for a charity, he started doing something – one project at a time. Shawn started the Uncultured Project, using social media (YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, & a WordPress blog) to connect people to his personal fight against global poverty. “It’s my journey to try and make the world a better place – one meaningful difference at a time. It’s about inspiring others to believe that we can be the generation that ends extreme poverty. Hopefully, this project can also show the big multinational organizations that there is a better way to engage people on the issue of global poverty.”
Shawn’s story reminded me of a story my friend Bill shared about driving his red and white VW bug in 1963 from Munich to India to work with Vinoba Bhave. Bhave was walking across India talking people into giving him their land and redistributing it the landless and untouchables. Bill was 20 years old. I’m sure his friends and family were a little worried he’d lost his mind too, but in the end, by following his heart, he changed the world. Today he is the founder and CEO of Ashoka and considered the “father of social entrepreneurialism.”
And Shawn’s work, with the support of the YouTube community, has made a significant difference. In less than four years, Shawn and the Uncultured.com community has helped rebuild a school, provide scholarships, disaster relief, food, clean water, school supplies, and much more in both Bangladesh and around the world. Today, the Uncultured project has over 4,300 Facebook supporters and 37,000+ YouTube subscribers.
All because a man heard a message, took a chance and followed his heart.
Daily Practice: just for today, follow your heart
Thanks to Kevin Espirito of Sammamish, Washington for the story idea!