Saturday 18 November 2017

You're never too small to make a big difference

More diversity on our boards coupled with a real sense of entrepreneurial flair and positivity will put Ireland back on the road to recovery sooner than you think, says Raomal Perera

THE Road to Recovery, whether it be a personal crisis or a country's crises, has many common threads to it. Here, I am musing on my journey and the lessons I believe I can take and apply to many crises around me: pump up the positives and celebrate success; solicit superb support; continuously course-correct and take small steps.

I cannot write about recovery without somehow beginning with my own life experiences. I am no different to many of you reading this, we have all seen lows and we have had to find a way to recover from the many messes we create for ourselves.

Saturday, April 9, 2011 is one of those days that will remain fresh in my mind for many years to come. Our eldest, Lesley-Ann, rang to say that she had just got engaged and we all celebrated the event. I had dreamt of the day of walking Lesley-Ann down the aisle and it looked like this day would not be too far away. Little did we realise that two days later my world was going to be turned upside down.

The following Monday I went for what I thought was going to be a routine blood test. That afternoon I got a call from my GP asking me to immediately go to the emergency department at St Vincent's Hospital. My white blood cell count was off the scale. I was diagnosed with having Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML). The challenge during this 'low' was trying to remain very positive and looking for a solution to get me out of the mess.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."

-- Albert Einstein

My treatment was intensive and invasive. I underwent a bone marrow transplant in December, which is a complete reset of my system. An intensive dose of chemotherapy killed off all my white blood cells and my brother's stem cells were transplanted to take over my system. That first day was the most difficult day to handle. It was disbelief, shock, horror and fear all hitting you like a 'perfect storm'.

I was in tears most of the night not fully able to comprehend what on earth was happening to me. I was very fortunate that almost immediately I was surrounded by support from family and friends. The rest of the journey was relatively easy for me, as I was able to accept the situation and work towards a solution.

Our country, too, will need to look at making some fundamental changes in how we do business on our road to recovery.

I am delighted to see the recent Enterprise Ireland initiative to encourage female entrepreneurship.

However, this should not end here. We need to do more. Let us actively bring diversity to our boards. Time for a changing of the guard. Let us actively recruit females to our boards. I work with the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards and in 2009 the European winners were two ladies from Iceland; Halla Tomasdottir & Kristin Petursdottir, who built a financial services company based on what they call feminine values.

To me, it sounded more like common sense, but while the rest of the Icelandic banking infrastructure collapsed, their company continued to grow. The key message here is to bring diversity to our corporate and public boards. Diversity is not just bringing in women but also looking at some of the 'New Irish', the immigrants.

I recently read an article in The Washington Post about the secret to Silicon Valley's enduring success. It focused on "creating a valley out of the nation of immigrants".

It's time to bring diversity to our boards -- not keep doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

"The hardest thing to do is smile when you are ill, in pain or depressed, but this no-cost remedy is a necessary first half-step if you are to start on the road to recovery"

-- Allen Klein

Did you know that the European Science Open Forum (ESOF) 2012 was in Dublin this month? There were over 5,000 delegates at the event with five Nobel laureates and more than 70 nationalities in attendance. I got a chance to be involved in the Science-2-Business stream at ESOF.

It was Europe's largest science gathering and it was truly an amazing conference. Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of Cern spoke about finding the Higgs Boson. Cern is the birthplace of the world wide web. Major General Charles F Bolden Jr, Nasa administrator, spoke about the new era of space exploration. And Craig Venter, founder and chairperson of the Venter Institute, spoke about reading and writing the genetic code.

These were just a few of the scientists in Dublin. This should have been headline news covered on the front pages in our daily newspapers and by RTE.

We must celebrate success. It's about getting us mere mortals outside of the conference centre to experience some of the buzz created at ESOF.

But I saw very little coverage of the event.

If you take a straw poll, talking to people in the street, they are likely to say that they are sick of hearing about the doom and gloom and have switched off from listening to the news. If this is true, why do we fail to highlight good news stories?

My recovery from a critical illness was thanks to an excellent team of staff at St James' Hospital and the constant support and encouragement from my family and friends. Likewise, our country's recovery will come from within and from our diaspora: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

It has been a rollercoaster ride for me as I start to rebuild my immunity. Like a baby, I must start my immunisation programme all over again.

"If we can't feed 100 people, then just feed one"

-- Mother Teresa

We can extend this to ask, can we make a difference for one person, to get him (her) back on his (her) feet on the road to recovery?

I work mainly with entrepreneurs and SMEs. Small firms play a significant role in Ireland's economy. Almost 200,000 small firms involve over 655,000 people in their operations. That's about half of all people engaged in businesses in Ireland. Our perception of 'big is beautiful' makes us susceptible to think that we need to focus on multinationals in order to create mass employment.

Yes they will give us some temporary relief in the unemployment crisis. However, studies have shown that long- term sustainable employment is created by small firms.

There is a vibrant start-up culture in Dublin with a number of 'accelerators' to help young start-ups. NDRC LaunchPad was Ireland's first digital accelerator and more than 80 entrepreneurs have passed through its programmes to date.

The Telefonica-O2's Wayra initiative is the latest 'accelerator' to join a growing list of accelerators now supporting the entrepreneurial eco- system.

Wayra together with ThousandSeeds (which I co-founded to help companies accelerate their ideas and products) will be hosting 'This week in Start-ups', which profiles the top three start-ups in Dublin on the popular Web TV channel in the US.

We should celebrate our success in creating this vibrant culture of entrepreneurship in Ireland and ask ourselves what more can we do for them?

In four weeks' time, I'll get to live my dream, walking Lesley-Ann down the aisle.

"If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito"

-- the Dalai Lama

Raomal Perera is a director, a motivational speaker, an entrepreneur and adjunct professor of entrepreneurial studies at INSEAD. Visit at

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