I absolutely do not remember where this photo was taken, but I absolutely do remember the energy and spirit it embodies; it is the same energy that fills the room whenever the three of us get together. One of brotherhood, authenticity of spirit, and a rich, global friendship. We live oceans apart, but our bond and sense of shared mission is as if were always together.
There has never been as much as a disagreement amongst us, from the day we met more than 5 years ago in Zermatt, Switzerland, at the inaugural meeting of the Forum of Young Global Leaders (associated with the World Economic Forum). The statement, "friends were friends, from the very first time, and acquaintances remain acquaintances for a lifetime," certainly describes our bond.
If leaders emerge in response to crisis, then true friendships can also become permanently bonded in a powerful sense of shared mission.
It was the final day of the YGL summit, where HRH Crown Prince Haakon (the future King of Norway, and my brother and dear friend), myself and Professor Pekka Himanen, a noted philosopher, author of 12 books and the youngest Ph.D in the history of Finland, came together, asking the same question; where and what is the spiritual center of this YGL family?
Because YGL at that time represented individuals from more than 90 countries, no one wanted to offend anyone else by calling out any one religious affiliation. This is completely understandable, even commendable. That said, we believed then, and believe even stronger today, that YGL and its members had to stand for something larger and more important than themselves. That "you could not truly call yourself a leader unless you were first prepared to serve."
That we had to live for something, at the end of the day, larger and more important than self.
But what was this thing that could simultaneously bond us together, yet avoid offending anyone? What was the one thing that all the people of the world could agree on, in a world where increasingly, we seem to only find reasons to disagree. Dignity, we agreed, was indeed that thing.
Dignity would translate, almost universally and around the world, and meant almost exactly the same thing to everyone. Everyone it seems, wanted more dignity.
But, what precisely did we mean by dignity, and what precisely did it mean to be a leader in the world today? Was the leader the person with the most money, or the who leads the nation?
Our friend Crown Prince Haakon answered this question for us, better than anyone could — then or since. He told Pekka and I, and later others, the story of a young 18 year old girl he met in Africa. She was HIV positive, and saving a miracle it appeared that her natural life would end before she even reached 19, based on her medical prognosis. She could have been full of anger, bitterness, even rage, and we would not have blamed her. Life seemed so unfair. But, she wasn't. In fact, Haakon told us, she was full of hope and a desire for a "life better" for the other young girls in her village.
She said to the handsome young prince, "please come to my village with me. I am not a celebrity, but you are….and they will listen to you. I don't want what has happened to me, to happen to other girls. I want them, to make better choices with their lives. Please come with me." Needless to say. the Crown Prince did go with her, and the subsequent visit changed his life, and his outlook on leadership, and along with it, his very definition of dignity. Just proves, the more you give, the more you get as well.
Crown Prince Haakon told Pekka and I later, "people call me a leader, but in reality, this young lady from Africa, she is the real leader. …I aspire to be like her." With that, with tears welling up in all of our eyes, the vision for Global Dignity was born.
From that moment on, we fully understood that we could not have dignity, unless we extended dignity to others. And we now finally understood that wise South African phrase, Ubuntu, or "I am me, because you are you."
We were changed, and forever bonded together, as brothers and friends, from that day forward. Our question became "what do we have to give," in a world that increasingly seems to ask, "what do I get?"
Global Dignity is part of that answer, and with the help of more than 100 YGLs over the years, we have conducted countless Dignity Days in countless countries around the world — from Latin America, to the United States and Europe, to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Last year, led by the YGL community, Global Dignity Day 2009 reached more than 30 countries, and this year, on October 20th, 2010, again inspired by the YGL family but for the first time including leaders from all walks of life, our goal is more than 40 countries on 6 continents.
We had a great vision yes, but it has taken a community — that community called the Forum of Young Global Leaders — to make that vision real in peoples lives.
Help us make this vision real in the lives of real people, right there in your neighborhood and community. Log on to www.globaldignity.org, and sign up to teach "A Course in Dignity" on Wednesday, October 20th, 2010, right where you live.
You and I may not be the future King of a prosperous nation, but we can indeed become a Hero or Shero to a young woman or young man, right there on your street.
One person can make a difference and "be the change we want to see in our world," as Gandhi was famous to have said, now "be that one person."
Be — as great as that amazing young girl (and leader) from that village in Africa.
Onward, with HOPE
John Hope Bryant