Keep the fire burning with Thankyou

Two truths that can seem quite depressing at first glance: success isn’t guaranteed, and failure, to some degree, will definitely be part of your journey. In the face of these facts, it can be challenging to keep your passion alive, especially when you face ongoing setbacks and challenges as you strive towards launching your idea.

I have stressed the importance of finding your ‘why’ but unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.
You must also find a way to maintain the passion and burn for your ‘why’. It must be your constant companion. Great intentions simply aren’t enough to carry you through. I guarantee you, I would not be here writing this if all I had to draw upon were those two defining moments, as amazing as they were. Throughout our journey, I’ve had to refresh my personal motivation time and time again.

This happened on a recent trip to Africa with one of our project partners. I met Vianney, a 15-year- old boy, in a country called Burundi. We had travelled for a few hours through the hilly regions of a country that most people haven’t heard of. It’s right next to Kenya and is the fifth-poorest country in the world. I started talking, through a translator, with Vianney and he began to share about what his life was like before he had access to safe water.

You could argue that it was simply another story, similar to others we’d heard many times before, but I can’t explain the profound experience of hearing it first-hand from the person who’d actually been through it.

Previously, Vianney would embark on a long walk twice a day to collect water for his mum and grandma. He talked about his constant sore neck and back from carrying 15 litres of water on his head every day. He told us how he had tried carrying smaller containers but it meant he had to walk four times, which he hated. He mentioned how hard it was to believe now, still, that just metres from his front door, he and his family have access to safe water through a gravity-fed water system that taps into natural spring water in the mountains.

I asked if I could go for the walk with him to see where he used to collect water. As we walked down the steep terrain to the bottom of the valley, we arrived at a small, filthy creek. It wasn’t water as we would picture it – it was essentially muddy water. He showed us how he used to collect it and then I asked if I could carry it back.

At first, he was confused. Why would I want to carry it back? The translator helped convince Vianney that I wanted to do it, as it dawned on him that I wanted to put myself through the same experiences and emotions that he used to feel every day as he collected water.

We were filming this whole story for a segment on Channel 7’s morning television show Sunrise, which would give Australia an update on Thankyou, and I knew this would help to visually tell the story. But this small journey carrying water meant so much more to me than that. I wanted to feel the pain and experience, just for a moment, what Vianney had endured every single day for so many years.

When I was back home in the comfort of my office and life in Melbourne, feeling sorry for myself and tempted to throw in the towel because it was all too hard, this was the moment I wanted to draw strength from.

After the walk back up the mountain, my neck was sore and I was exhausted. We sat down and talked some more and then he took great pride in showing our team how his new safe water source worked, which we had played a part in funding. Vianney finished our conversation by saying that when he saw our trucks approaching, “He wanted to lift them up above his head, just to show his appreciation, but he couldn’t because he was just a kid.” As the translator interpreted his words and shared Vianney’s sentiments with us, it was hard to stop the tears from building!

In 2008, in front of my computer, a single moment inspired me to do something about the world water crisis. As I stood next to Vianney five years later, the reason why I do what I do was reinforced to me very powerfully.

Visiting the communities we have worked in with our project partners always reminds us of our ‘why’ and keeps the fire burning. Not only do these communities now have access to safe water, but so many of the accompanying difficulties these people face without safe water have been eliminated. Women and children no longer face the same dangers of rape and kidnapping on the perilous journey to collect water. People don’t have to fear being attacked by wild animals at the waterholes. Hope is restored that they won’t be stuck in poverty forever or even face death from water-borne disease.

We are driven by our ‘why’, our motivation to be part of ending extreme poverty.

Recently, I was talking at a corporate event and one of the board members of the company asked me after my keynote speech, why I was still the managing director at Thankyou. I was a little confused and laughed awkwardly, until I realised it was a real question. He told me that I should let someone else run this little project so I could go off and actually make some real money. “You do realise you won’t make any money doing this charitable thing? You need to use your skills elsewhere to make money!” he said. This was a blunt version of a message I’ve heard many times over.

The question assumes that I’ve already done a good thing and surely, I’m not planning to spend my entire life pursuing this little charity hobby? In response, I politely smiled and said, “I’m in this for the long haul.” But there is a small part of me – the socially inappropriate part, perhaps – that just wants to say, “Did you not hear me? People are dying of preventable water-borne diseases and we are sitting here at this fancy little event, sipping our fancy little drinks and you want to convince me to get a better-paying job?!” As I said, socially inappropriate…
The truth is, I have no issue with fancy drinks at fancy events or people looking for better-paying jobs.

My point in sharing the above story is that we each see situations and filter the choices we, and others, make differently, based on our ‘why’. And thanks to my ‘why’, I’m in this for the long haul.


We would like to thank Daniel Flynn and the team at Thankyou for allowing us to share this excerpt from Chapter 1.4, ‘The ‘Why’ Behind What You Do’ of Chapter One. This idea / book is available at the price of your choosing, here.

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