Serendipity – for a better world?

John Wood Room to Read

Of all the words in the English language, my favourite (apart from “chocolate” of course) would have to be “serendipity”. Apparently I am not alone in this – it was Britain’s No.1 favourite word in a survey done as part of the London Festival of Literature a few years back.

Not only does it feel good rolling off my tongue, an awareness of serendipity adds meaning and colour to my life.

Earlier this week, I attended a talk by Room to Read’s founder John Wood, entitled, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”. John’s story is quite amazing.

While taking a much-needed break from his senior executive job with Microsoft (trekking in Nepal – hardly an island holiday!), John met a school principal from a nearby village, who invited him to visit the local school. To his horror, he discovered that while the school had a library, it had no books – they were simply too poor to afford them. “Maybe next time you will return with books”, came the polite request from the principal. Within a year, John returned with several yaks loaded with books, bringing the joy of learning to hundreds of excited kids. He quit his job to start Room to Read – a not-for-profit organisation that assists communities in the developing world to educate their children by building libraries, schools and providing scholarships for girls.

What I find truly amazing is that somehow this problem – a library without books – found JUST the right person, at JUST the right time.

What struck me about John during his talk, is how “normal” he is. Like many kids (me for example), he grew up a keen reader, a regular at his local library. However (unlike me, who’d barely heard of the guy) one of his heroes was businessman and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who had set up libraries throughout the US and elsewhere as his gift to the children of the world. John’s certainly smart and personable, but not more so than many other businessmen and women throughout the world – yet he was the one who realised he could apply his business acumen, contacts and personality to build an organisation up to the task of reaching the millions of children across the world, who each day do not go to school. Through hard work and good fortune, he had enough personal resources to support him while he got things going. Plus, he had the will, the drive, to do it, and at the time, was searching for some more meaning in his life than the cushy ex-pat life of a Microsoft senior executive.

So why John? I’ve trekked in Nepal. I didn’t get invited to see a local school by the principal. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have started Room to Read. Is my old friend, serendipity, at work here?

That said, I found Room to Read completely by accident. When I first started Leaf, from the outset I wanted to support a charity that offered education scholarships to girls in developing nations. I’d scoured the internet and made some early enquiries that led nowhere. Then, I happened to hear an interview with John on the radio. I sometimes catch this program, but certainly not regularly. As I listened to his story and the work that Room to Read did, tears rolled down my cheeks – it was, as I mentioned last week, a “Mack Truck Moment” – one those events, coincidences and chance meetings that give you a strong emotional jolt, helping you connect with a deep inner truth. Before I could allow the feeling to dissipate, I emailed the local chapter to volunteer.

I’ve been having a lot of those Mack Truck Moments lately – too regularly to be labelled “hormonal”!

What do they mean?

To be honest, I’m not really sure, but I have learned to trust them, and even to seek them. This means getting out there, extending my circle, giving myself some mental space, taking some risks and trusting my gut. Not easy for someone who’s always on the go, trying to keep up with the many responsibilities, challenges and day-to-day adventures of being a mumpreneur.

Serendipity requires mental space, time, connection and perspective (i.e. another great word, “sagacity”), something sorely lacking in our busy, busy lives. But unless we slow down, we may be missing those serendipitous opportunities we need – to realise to our dreams and become our greatest selves.

At least, that’s what’s I think. Do you believe in serendipity?

This Story Starter Challenge post was based on cards from the Travel Story Starter theme. The cards selected were “An interesting person…” and “Culture Shock”.

Leaf supports Room to Read by donating $1 from the sales of our Girl Talk and Kid Stuff Story Starters and Journals to go towards its Girls Education Scholarship program. We’re also about to release some exciting new products under the Girl Talk and Kid Stuff themes that will hopefully give even more girls the opportunity to finish their schooling. Read more… If you’d like to watch John’s presentation, click here.

Mar 5, 2011Blog, Story Starter Challenge - - -
  1. Serendipity makes the world go round. And it is SUCH a great word!

    Visiting via the Rewind.

  2. Ha, my favourite too – love how it sounds, love what it means! Coming at ya from the Rewind too!

  3. I think I may have heard the same interview. I also love the word serendipity and I love the story you have told here. We are v lucky in our new home town to have a dedicated children’s library across the road from our home. I love that there are people out there fighting to get books into the hands of kids who have had far less luck.
    Michelle (from Rewind)

  4. Have you met Felicity from Gifts of Serendipity? I think you will love her. You are doing great things here for kids and books. Great things. Thanks for Rewinding x

  5. Thanks everyone… seems I am not alone in my passion for books, all kids having the opportunity for learning, or the word “serendipity”.

Diary Dates

Sadly, Leaf closed its doors on 31 August 2013. Thank you all for your wonderful support. It's been an amazing journey.