01/08/2014 06:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Enthusiasm: Hope and a New Year

People, companies, and cultures all grow and change constantly, but there is nothing like the beginning of a brand new year to add extra planning and energy to the process. As if by affixing a pristine calendar to the wall, all the fears and challenges that held us back magically fall away and anything and everything looks possible. This is the magic of enthusiasm.


Eagerness, fervor, passion, all those things are what drive growth and change. If you are fortunate enough to live in the U.S., or other places in the developed world, you've been raised in an environment where those things are often praised and encouraged. That encouragement can make all the difference, because sometimes just having that belief that you can change the world and looking for those opportunities is what makes the change possible.

Working on the Billions Rising project I've been amazed to see just how many people start with a belief that one problem can be fixed, and then make it happen. It is a global truth that humans are generous. You have only to look at the response to a wide-spread tragedy. First Responders risk their lives to save others. Money, volunteers, and donations will pour in from around the world. When people know there is an immediate action they can take which will make a difference, they will. It is only when we get overwhelmed by the size of the perceived problem that we feel a certain hopelessness and shrug and put things out of our minds.

In the month of January we have a holiday to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. A man with an idea and a dream, he led a revolution in thought. His uplifting and powerful words coalesced a movement out of an idea, but the changes he spoke for could not have happened without the efforts, devotion and enthusiasm of many, many other people. People who passed the word. People who made copies. People who gave rides to others so they could all hear him speak.


We may not all be the face of a revolution, but we can each one of us find a small thing that we can do to change or improve the world. A donation of funds to give a hand-up to someone in need, a donation of time to a shelter, or just a smile and a compliment to a stranger on the street. When we focus on giving what we can, everything seems a little more possible, and we find more like-minded people to work with. Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Mark Horvath found himself homeless. Instead of sitting back and waiting for a change, he started a campaign he calls Invisible People TV, where he uses simple equipment to film homeless people, letting them tell their own story about how they got where they are. Homelessness is frightening at a very deep level and for many people it is easier to look aside and not think about it too closely. By letting people tell their own stories, Mark hopes to shift perception and deliver a call to action, to find solutions that are more effective in helping the majority get off the street quickly. That's Mark's project, but he says this: "There are a lot of causes in this world. It doesn't have to be homelessness. Find one and go volunteer. If you go somewhere and you hate it because the staff is unpleasant or disorganized, leave that one and go to another until you find a place you feel good about working in."


So what issue or cause or problem fills you with passion in this New Year? Is there something in your own life that you can fix? Is there a charitable issue that encourages you to get out and find like-minded people to act with? What will you do with your enthusiasm to make the world a better place?