Ola's story

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Brandon shared this story at the 2018 Spring Equinox Storytelling and Sushi Feast.

Ola was excited for the first time in a long time. She had been in some kind of a gray place after her business had whimpered to a close. The business had been important and spectacularly unsuccessful. Ola was known to her family and close friends for having no shortage of forward-thinking ideas. Who are we kidding, she’s known to her family and friends as living in a fantasy world. The business had been an attempt to turn one of those dreams into a reality. For as long as she could remember, she had been driven by a vision of a malnourished child in the arms of a UN relief worker in northern Africa. One of those jungle places where war had created tremendous suffering and hardship. As she grew older and more sophisticated, Ola researched what she could do to help children like that image she saw when she was a little girl. Her business had been a partnership between do-gooders in the developed world and families in the developing world to bring clean drinking water and sanitation to their villages. It had combined play equipment with pumping water to houses. The design was pragmatic and joyful; it combined merry-go-rounds with water tanks. As the children played on the merry-go-round, it puked water to a tank that created water pressure at village houses. Ola had partnered with a man named Frank in Uganda to roll these out. Frank was charming and had a big smile that projected genuine enthusiasm and care for the families that this would affect. And Frank had been like one of those merry-go-rounds, all kinds of visible motion, but the real story happening behind the scenes as he pumped money away from the nonprofit into a reservoir that only he knew about. But definitely not into play pumps. When Ola had visited Uganda to check on the work, Frank had driven her around to look at all the play pumps her donors had bought. It was only after seeing crosses emblazoned on the water tanks that Ola began to suspect that these particular play pumps were not Frank’s but from some other organization. It turned out that they were actually part of Catholic Ministries and Frank was taking credit for spending the money when really he had just been stealing the money. Ola had to share this upsetting information with all the sponsors who had chipped in and the ensuing brouhaha had destroyed Water For Life, her nonprofit business. Her family and friends had been super supportive and the comments about Ola living in a fantasy world had gone away completely. But Ola felt worse than ever because, while during the time when she only imagined doing something, she could still imagine succeeding, now the reality of her failure of judgment was impossible to ignore. Ola had been licking her wounds for more than 18 months, working in retail as a team lead at a big box home furnishings store. The work was an anesthetic for her mind that took the edge off and kept her occupied during the day. Now today, for the first time in almost two years, Ola was sticking her neck out again.

Today Ola was moving into a coffin at the maker/foundation/still-to-be-named cooperative creation space. The coffin was really kind of like a big locker. A locker that had a bed, a little window, and a shelf for some of her treasured items. Ola was trading in her apartment for the coffin because of what it represented. The rent wasn't different at all, but a lot of it went to support the community space. Ola had found a very earnest group of other folks who also lived in a fantasy world and had immediately joined their project. She looked back to the first meeting she had attended and could hardly believe that it had happened only two weeks ago. Since then, she had been in almost constant contact with the group. Her friends and family were moving very rapidly from amused that Ola had found something exciting again to concerned and then downright panicky. They were probably right; it didn’t seem particularly wise to quit her job, break her lease, and throw in wholeheartedly with this ragtag band of dreamers. But Ola had the old energy surge and knew she was born for this opportunity. It wasn’t that she was choosing, it was that she could not choose otherwise. The group was an unlikely mix of young practically-homeless dreamers and retired executives who had found retirement oppressive. They had been meeting for a few years with little success in getting rolling. At first, the group had figured they needed consensus and 100% alignment on what they were trying to accomplish. Then one of the youngsters saw an episode of a tech startup show where several infant businesses in an incubator were struggling along until one of them started getting traction. At that point all the others abandoned their infant projects and joined the one that was getting traction. After Richard explained this to the group, everyone felt like the way forward was clear. They would pursue whatever vision felt promising to them, and as soon as one of them started getting traction, the others would join in. So long as all the efforts were aligned with the purpose of the group, let the marketplace decide. Ola was going to use the opportunity to pursue her passion for sanitation once more by bringing a dry toilet to suburbia.

(To be continued?)

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