Talking Points: Meaningful (Ad)ventures
Generation T honourees Paul Niel, Victoria Wisniewski Otero and Alessandro Bisagni lent their expertise to a Gen.T panel discussion at Hong Kong's Conscious Festival. Here are some of the key takeaways
Talking Points is a semi-regular series where we highlight some of the key topics discussed at a Generation T keynote, fireside chat or panel discussion.
Back in Hong Kong for a second year, the Conscious Festival once again brought together change-making organisations, artists and entrepreneurs—all bound by a common desire to make the world more sustainable and socially conscious place—for two days of talks and experiences.
The talks were organised into four themed sessions that took place across the weekend: Live, Work, Consume and Travel. Generation T hosted a panel discussion during the Travel session, on the topic “Meaningful (Ad)ventures”. Gen.T editor Lee Williamson spoke to three honourees who were inspired by a sense of discovery to enact positive change: Alessandro Bisagni, founder of green energy firm BEE; Victoria Wisniewski Otero, founder of NGO Resolve Foundation; and impact investor and adventurer Paul Niel. Here are the key talking points we took from the discussion.
1. Look your ethical responsibility right in the eye
Wisniewski Otero grew up in a modest Hispanic family in the US, and she spoke eloquently about how her bilingual, bicultural background shaped her perspective. “It’s so important to remember that we all have some privilege that others don’t and to think quite seriously about how we can leverage that to help them,” she said. “I never saw myself as someone particularly brave, but I know now it was always inside me. But as the child of an immigrant, who has lived in countries with profound inequality issues, I did know I had to act—from the moment I saw huge inequality in Central America [where she lived as a teeenager], it shaped my worldview.”
2. Never give up on change
Alessandro Bisagni's green engineering company BEE is behind literally hundreds of impactful sustainability projects. Despite his many successes, he spoke about how demoralising it can be when the world isn’t responding to you and your products. Until it does. “I have been working for 18 years,” he explained. “I started being interested in sustainability in high school and it went from there. And I soon knew urban planning and green building would be my focus. I’ve always had a spirit of adventure, but what has driven me has been the desire to see change. And there has been a huge transformation in awareness around sustainability recently. The lightbulb goes off and suddenly developers have a totally different mindset. On one of the first projects I did, the developer asked if AstroTurf was sustainable, now he is out there building these amazing green buildings.”
3. Develop empathy through exposure
Wisniewski Otero believes we need to start shaping a kinder social fabric and create a different world for our children. And that this begins at home. “While Hong Kong is undeniably a vibrant and diverse city, inclusion is another matter,” she said. “Statistically speaking, Hong Kong is the most unequal place in the developed world, so it is an objective fact that lots of groups are being marginalised. We have one of the highest concentrations of millionaires on earth but also people living caged homes. We need to develop empathy through exposure to people who aren’t like us. I like to leave Central and see other parts of the city — go to small local festivals and markets. The Hong Kong we know and love is under threat, but there are still so many things to discover if you get out of your bubble.”
4. Use data to change people’s minds
As a trained mathemetician, former banker and now an impact investor, it's fair to say Niel is a numbers guy—and for good reason. “In my opinion, data and measurement is the single one thing that changes an environment and makes people sit up and take notice,” he said. “Data is easier to track and harder to ignore. That allows for a complete change in mindset—when you show someone on a graph the difference they are making, it transforms everything. Once you can easily measure the positive impact, people want to help.”
5. Self-care and activism need to go hand-in-hand
“We all need to work on ourselves,” said Wisniewski Otero. “The human rights sector is so focused on other people that you often forget about yourself. But self-care and activism need to go hand-in-hand. We all really do need people.” Niel, who has successfully completed the epic “seven-summit” quest by climbing each continent's highest peak, agreed. “I recently injured myself so I had to empty my diary and just sit on the sofa for once, so I could recover. I had some inner reflection in world of constant stimulus. It made me think of my expeditions; you put all your trust in someone else and hope that person knows what they’re doing. But you also need to put that trust in your everyday life.”