Review: One Wild Life (amazing stories of social entrepreneurs)

Unfortunately I still haven't gotten around to reading Clare Mulvaney's new book One Wild Life but fellow Social Entrepreneur Dara Hogan, project leader at Fledglings Childcare, has. And wrote a terrific review which he has kindly allowed me to reprint in full here –

Review of "One Wild Life" by Clare Mulvany

This book is a “must read” for all social entrepreneurs!  Many of us will remember Clare as the excellent photographer who shot us (the 2008 SEI awardees) in Maynooth last September.  I must confess that I was surprised to learn that Clare had spent practically a whole year travelling around the world interviewing social entrepreneurs and writing them up for her book "One Wild Life".  It’s a series of short articles over 256 pages documenting the work of 35 social entrepreneurs (including 11 in Ireland) on 4 continents.  Clare didn’t get to South America – yet!

I have a surprisingly short concentration span so I loved Clare’s chosen format which is a mixture of overviews and detailed project reports interspersed with blog / diary extracts, travel notes and sectoral snapshots.  I also liked Clare’s short, third-person introduction to each project followed by a few pages comprising the words of the social entrepreneur (in the first person).  I was very glad that it was not the tired question and answer format that I expected to find.

My first impressions are the sheer variety and diversity of social enterprises that Clare has written up.  This is not unlike what we have in SEI in Ireland but, somehow, it is magnified by the geographic and the racial diversity as well as by the scale of the problems she saw at first-hand.  

Given that Clare spent lots of time in the Developing World (Africa and Asia), she reports on some social enterprises that, happily, are not needed in Ireland.  These include Kailash Satyarthi who set up Rugmark (and two other social enterprises) in India in his drive against child labour.  Later, in the US, Clare also met Nina Smith of Rugmark to learn about the Developed World side of the Rugmark social enterprise.  Clare reports that there are about 218 million child labourers in the world of whom about 22,000 children die each year in work-related activities.  In the US, Clare met Sarah Symons & John Berger of The Emancipation Network which fights child sex trafficking.  They used the equity in their house to finance their project saying "We are gambling – it is interim".  Now that’s what I call commitment!

In the health sector Clare interviewed Peter Mugyeni who is pioneering the fight against HIV/AIDS with his Joint Clinical Research Council in Uganda.  The global statistics are staggering – 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS of whom 3 million die each year with 2.7 million new infections per annum.  As a result of HIV/AIDS, the average life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa (the most heavily-infected area) is 47 years.  The Republic of South Africa alone has 1,500 new HIV/AIDS infections per day.

In Cambodia, Clare wasn’t able to meet with Mechai Viravaida AKA Mr Condom.  However, she did write up his PDA (Population Development Association) project and his stunning results.  In the 8 years ending 1997, Mechai reduced Cambodian STD (Sexually-Transmitted Disease) infections from 410,000 to just 23,000!

The extent of child labour and the scale of HIV/AIDS pandemic present issues for social entrepreneurs of a magnitude that we in Ireland can only barely grasp.  For example, Clare documents the work of Nick Moon who, in 1992m installed 40,000 latrines in UN Refugee Agency camps in Somalia in order to earn a fee for his Kickstart project so that he could deploy new technologies in Africa.  At the peak Nick and his team were building 130 latrines per day and earning funds for Kickstart!

Clare's travel tales are cautionary and memorable too.  In Mombasa, a bad bout of food poisoning meant that Clare missed people by a few days after travelling all that way to meet them.  In Kenya, Clare opted for “mid-range accommodation” which turned out to be a brothel.  The place was filthy and Clare found a used condom between the sheets!  She went to sleep trying to muffle the sounds coming from the adjoining rooms.

Clare was moved to tears in Mumbai for the women led by Jyoti Mhapsekar of the Women’s Liberation Movement who worked sorting rubbish in appalling conditions (which had been much improved by Jyoti’s project).  In a chaotic Indian railway station, Clare had to waste 3½ hours in ten separate queues just to buy a train ticket!  Twice in her travels Clare lost her wallet and on both occasions it was returned safely and intact.

If, like both Clare and me, you have a fondness inspirational quotations then this book is a veritable treasure trove of them.  I’m sure that Ruairi McKiernan of Spunout in Galway is not the only one who can say "I nearly quit a million times".  Likewise we would all identify with Taddy Blecher of CIDA (the free South African university) when he said “being a social entrepreneur is unbelievably hard”.  In the same vein Kyle Zimmer of First Book found that in disadvantaged American neighbourhoods there was only one book per 300 children.  Kyle said "If this were easy work someone else would have done it….this is hard – really hard".  

Clare has done a lot of thinking along the way and her short conclusion outlining the top 10 lessons that she learned is a brilliant summary.  Her list of web resources is comprehensive as is her list of travel tips for anyone else heading off around the world.  As a photographer myself I was surprised that Clare used a compact digital and only bought a DSLR camera when she was well into the journey.  However, the lack of this technical resource is not evident in the excellent quality of the photography on nearly every page.  The child in me likes books with pictures and this one has many great shots.

One final quote is very relevant to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland when Clare quotes Jim Fruchterman of non-profit tech company Benetech who said "Networks are reciprocal – if you put something in you will get something back – that is their magic".  

I have only been able to touch on a handful of the projects that Clare documents in "One Wild Life".  Don’t miss this book – in it Clare has captured the essence of what we do.

— Dara Hogan

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