What a week we had of it, arriving back last night. Elaine and I had flown from Heathrow’s T5 to Geneva on 26th July, to stay several days with Pavan Sukhdev. Have known him since the launch of his The Economics of Ecosystems & Bioversity (TEEB) reports back in 2010. Always liked him immensely, but didn’t know him that well – despite being a member of the Advisory Board of his impact intelligence platform, GIST Impact. All that changed this week.
When I told him I that I had a small stroke (TIA) in one eye, he basically instructed me to drop everything and head off to his a home in Nyon, overlooking Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc. Irresistible, particularly since Elaine has always loved Switzerland to distraction.
Given that one of my key projects at the moment is the first Volans impact report, after ten years as a B Corporation, a status that means we should have been producing an annual impact report, I was thrilled by the chance to explore Pavan’s evolving thinking on the subject. As we sampled his library of single malt whiskies, we explored the horizons of impact – and I found myself getting much clearer on how we can do justice to the challenge. More on that anon.
One thing we found we shared is a sense that serendipity is a critical element of our respective minutes and business models. My thinking on the subject had taken a step forward a couple of years ago when I interviewed Dr Christian Busch, author of The Serendipity Mindset, for our Green Swans Observatory. And this short visit constantly underscored the key role serendipity can play in our lives.
One evening while we were walking back through the old town of Nyon, I noted that the time was perfect for bats – then we walked into a towering square where the evening air was thick with them. Joy! We saw various forms of wildlife, including chamois, hummingbird hawk moths and, one evening, perhaps ten brown rats scurrying between wooden decks on which a local café and gardens stood. Enjoyed them all in equal measure, although – for me, at least – the bats topped the bill.
Then a passing woman asked if I was John Elkington? Sometimes, I replied. Turned out that she was Simone Awramenko, now a sustainability expert at Credit Suisse, who knew me of old.
Even more striking was the moment when Paul Rose, probably my favourite explorer, who I had met at Anthropy last year through David Williams of Impact International, liked one of my tweets. When I responded, noting that I was in Nyon, having no idea where he lived, he shot back that he lived 40 minutes up the hill from Nyon. All of which led to one of the most delightful days of my life, when Pavan took Elaine and I up by train to Saint-Cergue to see Paul and his wife Jöelle. But more of that in a moment, after a brief photo intermission.
And then up into the mountains we went. As the train pulled into Saint-Cergue, I was watching out for deer, and spotted what I initially took to be an ibex, but which proved to be a chamois, hard by the track. Paul and Jöelle collected us á pied at the station and took us on a 3-hour walk across the peaks, then back to their wonderful home, passing another (or perhaps the same) chamois as we arrived back at Rose roost. A real sense of homecoming.
Although Pavan and Paul had met on a conference panel some time back, they didn’t know each other – so a wonderful moment of cross-pollination. Love Paul’s Pristine Seas project with the National Geographic Society. And then, as the black-and-white image of Pavan’s whisky bar illustrated at the opening of this post, Paul and Jöelle visited us a day or two later in Nyon – ahead of a joint raid on the local flea market, or Marché aux Puces on the Nyon waterfront. But first, a trio of images from our lunch afloat between Nyon and Lausanne on our penultimate day.
Part-way through the trip, I told Elaine that I felt I had been away for weeks, or even months. A elasticisation of time I often experience when doing different things – or doing things differently. And then, finally, the visit on our last day to the Marché aux Puces, followed by a delightful lunch in sun nearby.
By way of a coda, but as another example of how odd connections so often happen, on the flight back, in economy, I found myself having a fascinating conversation with an elaborately dressed 88-year old. We continued the conversation with him and his wife as we waited for our bags to appear on the carousel at T5. Turned out that this is who he was, is.
Then out into the rain of London, with the taxi driver noting our Nyon weather had been dramatically nicer than London’s. But at least everything looked lusciously green.