I've landed here on a scholarship (thanks to John Dyson, Stanford Australia, Ian Thorpe Fountain for Youth and Virgin Aus who also helped out with flights and funding support) to be a part of the Stanford Business Executive 6 week program. It's their premiere business program and has business leaders from 46 different countries. I'm the youngest here, and have got to admit, I've heard the phrase "billion dollars" thrown around a little more regularly with these guys than my mates back home who are still pumped up when they score a free ticket to a footy match.
It's midway through the course, we currently have our weekend off as a break and I'm deep in the land of reflection looking back at what the heck happened in the last 9 years to bring AIME to where it is today.
I spent the morning reading over emails from 2005, 2006 and 2007 and thinking about what AIME has become. I was a pretty agitated kid. I was angry, frustrated, impatient and wanted the world to change now and to be honest I'm surprised that I managed to keep any mates around me during those early years :)
07 was a tough year. I'd finished Uni in 06, and but kept on with running AIME whilst working a couple of jobs as a cricket coach and staff member at an after school care centre to pay the rent... I couldn't seem to get anyone to see what AIME could be, or commit to funding a role... I'd borrowed about 5K or so from my housemate and good mate Clark Webb, and was pulling together the 3rd Indigenous Carnivale concert at Sydney Uni to try and raise some much needed funds to keep AIME going. I was tired, and the fire inside was flickering.
To be honest, this was as close as I think I ever got to rock bottom. But I was so lucky to have people around me that kept believing... And hey, if you knock on enough doors one of them is destined to open... if it doesn't then go knock on the window... no luck there try the back door... and finally if that doesn't work go down the chimney! It works for Santa. In 07 with the support of the Governor of NSW Marie Bashir, and Sydney University... I went down the chimney.
I look back on the person that I was and the growth I've had to go through to work through the anger and frustration, and learn not to judge people on where they've come from, and what they think today, but for who they are now and what they can be tomorrow.
In the years since I've trained myself to practice pigheaded hope. I've taken inspiration almost every day from the people who have come into AIME's orbit and seized the platform to reach for that person they've always wanted to be.
Over here at Stanford during the lectures, and discussion groups on strategy, customers, audience, marketing, brand... I've been reflecting on how special the AIME vehicle is that we have built together. And in the process I've been trying to nail down the best way that AIME can help us all be better people moving forward into the future.
Reading over case studies of major global companies that sell coffee, shoes, or soft drinks attach themselves to concepts of happiness or greatness I've been wondering what's possible for us when our core business is about supporting people to be better tomorrow than they are today.
When I started AIME, I was frustrated at the apathy that seemed to engulf my generation. I was told by my slightly idealistic old man that Uni was about exploring your horizons, and challenging yourself... As I looked around I couldn't work out what our generation wanted to stand for... The major focus seemed to be on partying, and playstation. Now I love a beer and a game of FIFA soccer, but seriously is that the legacy we wanted to leave?
My frustration reached boiling point with all the complaining in relation to the problems surrounding Indigenous Australians. I'd sit in tutorials and read papers that said we would never overcome the challenges and inequality... that didn't sit well with me. I knew that when I played sport, if coaches or captains didn't support me, or told me I wasn't good enough, after a while the thoughts became a reality...
By no means was I the only person thinking this way at Sydney Uni. I had great Indigenous and non-Indigenous Uni mates that got it. Hamish Dunn, Tom Ward and Rashi Kalra, the magical med crew that helped get my ideas onto paper during 04/05 were great examples. As was Paul Sinclair (I'll come back to Sinco a bit later), Clark Webb, Carla McGrath, Ben Philips and the Indigenous students who helped lead the program as mentors, and the core crew of Viv Paul, Sam Perry, Adam Linforth, Ineke Weaver, Penelope Gillam, Daniel Halangahu and my other core mates who really stuck with AIME as mentors and beyond...
And perhaps more importantly we would never have been able to dream of doing something like AIME if the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the strong non-Indigenous people hadn't fought the battles they had in the previous 200 or so years to see a day where Indigenous people in Australia had a seat at the table. AIME's birth is part of a much longer storyline and we are humbled to have a chapter or two to write in that story.
From the beginning, as each year of the program progressed we have had to adapt our skills. I can tell you my messaging got a little more subtle than in those early days :) And all the time we had to practice what we preached... we were telling these kids to shoot for the moon and even if they missed they would land amongst the stars... I knew heading the thing up I had to do the same... By no means have I perfected this, and I still have so much to learn, and many more mistakes to make, but one thing you can know that hasn't changed since day 1 is my commitment to be the best I can be for the kids, the mentors and everyone that comes into touch with AIME.
The other thing that hasn't changed since day 1 is the vibe that Paul Sinclair helped me build... a vibe to learn whilst laughing... I can remember when we made an AIME film in 2007 that played on the heart strings a bit.. and Sinco was like.. 'man it's a bit serious'. One of the great things that Aboriginal people have taught me in my life, from my slightly mad mother (Mad means cool Mum!! Promise... ), to my even madder Uncle Sonny who got me to drive back from Copmanhurst Pub to Lionsville as a 10 year old, on to the Paul Sinclair's of the world and everyone in between... What all these people have taught me is if you say life is hard all the time, then guess what, life will be hard, but if you look for the fun, if you reach for happiness, and you laugh more than you cry... than you really can be happy.
So what's this all mean? In looking to build our 'brand promise' (yeah I've been to business school...), that statement that you can know you can connect with, and that we will live and die by.
I wanted you to know, explicitly, that our commitment as an organisation and as a brand is to stand for a world where we try to be better tomorrow then we are to today, and have a seriously fun time trying.
Some of you may not have completely understood why we have started to offer programs for the general public or for non-Indigenous people, and the simple answer is that inspiring people to be better is in our DNA... it's what drives us, and what makes us who we are. We will always have the cells of Indigenous success beating through our bloodstream, and we will strive to help build up and showcase to the world a generation of talented kids that will inspire us all. But there's more...
We are also providing a platform for so many people to be better. As Deb Kirby-Parsons said to me, our guru on the enquiries line, and all round superstar based in Mudgee... (if you reply to this email you are guaranteed a DKP "Darling experience"), Deb said the other day, "Jack Darling, I've always said that AIME is a place that challenges so many people to be the best they can be. When you look back at our history you see so many people that have come into touch with AIME and jumped on for stages of the journey, and every time they have hopped off they have done so as better people."
And even over here, with people from so many different countries, they have all been inspired to think about how they could be better in their lives, and for those around them after hearing about AIME....
So as I look into the crystal ball with our 2013 'Team AIME' Hoodies becoming available from next week, and the campaign that is going to encourage you to rock the Hoodie far and wide... I want you to know that this symbol will inspire you to be the best you can be.
When you are looking for inspiration, when you are feeling like you need a sense of fun and laughter in your life, when you want to challenge yourself, then chuck on the AIME Hoodie and feel the energy that comes when we reach to be better tomorrow then we are today.
be better tomorrow,
p.s. This years Hoodie Day we are launching a very special campaign... (I think they call that a teaser at marketing school, so now you'll be all excited, and then ask your friends/family if they know what's going on... and then apparently that's how word of mouth campaigns start that are heaps more valuable then paid advertising...)
p.p.s. Hoodie Day is the 30th August and Bonds have done the Hoodies this year, and my legendary Mum and amazing artist Bronny Bancroft (www.bronwynbancroft.com - I get props for pumping up my mums work right?) has done the designs. You'll get an email in the next week with a new special price on the 2013 Hoodies to make them more accessible for kids and everyone around the world.