Find out how a raffle ticket took our CEO Jean Oelwang to the Galapagos and what she learned on those beautiful islands about leadership…

A year ago we bought a $100 raffle ticket at a National Ability Centre event in Park City, Utah and found to our great surprise that we won a trip that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life – to the heart of the natural wonders of the world, the Galapagos. And it couldn’t have come at a better time – I was about to go on honeymoon!

On my way out of the office, Charlotte from the Virgin Unite team, said to me: “Be ready as that place will really disrupt you.” Little did I realise how disrupted I would be.

Galapagos

When you take your first step onto the islands of the Galapagos you have to rub your eyes a few times before you can fully embrace the sheer beauty of this natural wonderland.

Black lava rocks teaming with colourful marine iguanas, sea lions playing in the waves, penguins darting about at daunting speeds, giant tortoises extending their long necks to give you a closer view of their wise eyes, bright red crabs darting through the iguanas, the sky filled with the outstretched wings of the frigate birds and the bright blue feet of the Boobies – all welcoming you without fear.

As the week unfolded, each day brought a new island, a magical new landscape and extraordinary proximity to incredible wildlife. Again and again, both above and below the water, you felt like you were entering a natural paradise with its rightful ownership being the wildlife that for centuries had called these islands home.

They welcomed you with grace and mutual wonder, their strength clearly founded in their independence from man and the opportunity to be free to evolve into natural superstars.

At every turn, one could not help thinking about how ironic it is that as humans we’ve all played a role in destroying natural ecosystems around the world that create this abundance of beauty, yet we all crave this type of natural wonder.

Indeed, we’ve flown across the world to this tiny group of islands in the middle of nowhere to experience it. It is a great reminder of the deep responsibility we each have to protect these few wild places left on earth and to figure out how we can revitalise the ones we’ve already destroyed. With every major natural ecosystem in rapid decline, this has now become an urgent shout for help from Gaia, no longer a gentle whisper in the wind.

jean honeymoon

So, I expected to get a disruptive knock from the natural world, but I didn’t expect to get disrupted by my fellow humans.

Jean
Captain Victor is second in from left, and Jean’s husband Chris in the front

The first disruption came in the shape of what was to become our “family” for the week, a collection of people from all over the world. I must admit that I’m normally fairly opposed to organised holidays with groups of people you don’t know, but this was a pretty special group, a reminder of the wonderful tapestry of people we are lucky enough to share life with. This eccentric collection came from radically different backgrounds, but all came together with a common love for the natural world. 

Each had a humility born out of the reality that each of us has been part of the destruction of that world and the commitment to wanting to figure out how we can play a role in making sure that future generations will experience the Galapagos and hopefully many more wild places like it. So even though this was our honeymoon, it was a disruptive gift for us to share it with such a special group (well, at least most parts of it!).

The second “human disruption” came in the form of Victor, the Ecuadorian Captain of our beautiful boat, the Evolution. Each day we watched him walk and work alongside his crew, showing strong leadership in a humble, gentle, yet effective way.

He was the first to roll up his sleeves and help someone out, no matter how minor the task. His consistently fair, honest, curious and joyous approach to leadership made the crew and the guests feel like one common family on a wondrous adventure together. Victor is one of those rare people in the world who leads from his heart, as well as his head, and with wisdom and compassion. 

He disrupts many theories of leadership and proves that a compassionate, wiser form of leadership can be far more effective, positive and a whole lot more fun.

Galapagos

As I leave these glorious islands, and our shared honeymoon, I can’t help but think about how important it is to protect and nurture wonderful places like the Galapagos, but also to celebrate and nurture wonderful leaders like Victor. It will only be through this new approach to leadership that we will ever correct our current path as humans and give any hope to Gaia and her wonderful crew (including us humans).
 

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