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Kyle Westaway

Kyle Westaway

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Ideas Become Human

Posted: 03/25/11 01:20 PM ET

It's not a very glamorous place, this small second story room lit by florescent bulbs on a small street around the corner from the Nana redlight district in Bangkok. But it was here, sitting on plastic chairs around a fold out table that Biographe became real to me.

For the last couple of years as me and my friends have been burning the midnight oil doing financial modeling, studying our target demographic, drafting contracts and sketching designs to develop Biographe -- a sustainable style brand that employs and empowers survivors of the commercial sex trade in southeast Asia. Over the years, I've always thought of the women that we'd be employing as an abstract idea. Today that abstract idea became human.

Sitting across the table from the women that will screen printing the Biographe premium graphic t-shirts and looking into their eyes, seeing their personalities, hearing them laugh and listening to their stories was like a strong cup of coffee in the morning, waking me up to the reality of the work we are doing. The reality is that Biographe is not a solution to an issue or a social enterprise to be effectively managed. Biographe is, at its core, is a person-to-person connection. It's human.

I'm reminded of Jacqueline Novogratz' TED talk on a life of immersion. I have spent too much time in my comfortable life in NYC and not enough time being immersed in the humanity of Biographe. Coming face to face with these women has had a profound impact on me. Biographe has always mattered to me on an intellectual and moral level, but now it matters to me on a deep emotional level. My interaction with these women has brought a face to a huge global problem. It has also reinforced the necessity of the Biographe's mission: to employ and empower survivors of the commercial sex trade.

The primary challenge for a type A social entrepreneur, like myself, is not product development, marketing, or logistics but the challenge of empathy with fellow humans. It's easier to dig into spreadsheets and power point presentations than it is to immerse oneself in humanity. But the immersion in humanity has a richness and depth that is infinitely more rewarding. This investment can never be done from a distance. Immersion is a commitment to being face to face with the population you're serving. It's a commitment to sit around a fold out table in an ordinary room and have your world rocked when abstract ideas become human.

 

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