As we at Sustainable Brands — and anyone working to rectify the damage people have done to the planet — are well aware, it's all too easy to ignore pressing social and environmental issues if their effects can’t be seen or felt in our daily lives.
After a life-altering excursion across three continents, SoulBuffalo CEO and founder Dave Ford was determined to find a way to change this, by taking those just as responsible for causing as solving many of these issues — global corporate decision-makers — out into the wild to experience the effects of their business decisions with their own senses.
We spoke with Ford to learn more about SoulBuffalo and its experiential journeys designed to engage leaders and teams with modern sustainability challenges around the world.
What inspired you to create SoulBuffalo?
Dave Ford: A decade ago, I spent two years traveling South America, North America and Africa. For me, that’s when my education really began. I learned more about the world — and myself — in those 24 months on the road than I had during the entirety of my life up to that point.
Everything shifted: my thinking, my connection to others, and my deep respect and concern for the environment. I observed exasperating poverty in Bolivia; I experienced the staggering beauty of untouched nature in Antarctica; and I had my first encounter with organized conservation in the Serengeti in Tanzania. I learned to trek the wilderness and loved every minute of it. I was transformed.
Allowing more people to have these transformational experiences was the inspiration for starting the company; however, we very quickly realized that we wanted to do more than allow people to experience the world; we wanted to do our part to help change it. The most logical way to do that was by connecting powerful, committed, impactful change agents in the business world to one another, while exposing them to the many challenges in the world through visceral, lived experiences. And that’s what we’re doing with our expeditions, summits and off-sites. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding.
As you point out on your website, “Across every continent on our planet, environmental and social crises are becoming numbingly common.” Many people aren’t concerned about environmental issues because they’re not affected by them in their daily lives – how does SoulBuffalo’s experiential learning model help participants bring home the lessons they learn in remote parts of the world?
DF: There’s a quote from Ray Dalio, the most successful hedge fund manager in the world, that warns about this kind of thinking, “As a principle, deadly problems that you don’t see or feel, especially those that are communal — so that nobody is clearly given the authority and resources to deal with them well — are the ones that will kill you. By the time the pain is great enough, it’s too late.”
We see experiential learning as a key to driving greater innovation and discovering new opportunities for growth and creativity. By placing leaders in complex and unknown environments, they are forced to re-evaluate preexisting ideas. They develop an appreciation for complex causal relationships and the larger implications of their eﬀorts from a global perspective. As important is that this model demonstrably turns participants into sustainability advocates with new skills and tools to start movements within their organizations. The notion of starting a movement within a business seems counterintuitive because so many movements have been created that are adversarial to businesses.
But there are so many noble causes in the business world today — income equality, inclusion and diversity, sustainability — that powerful movements can be started by a small group of people that can change their companies, and the world, with the right mix of experience, perspective, empowerment and tools. That’s what we aim to incite.
Are there some topics in which attendees are more reluctant to engage/believe/understand the magnitude? If so, which — and how did their SoulBuffalo experience help them?
DF: We’re big fans of the quote that “a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” If you have a natural bias towards a position on an environmental or social issue, it’s never been easier to confirm your opinion through the media you choose to read. Climate change is an obvious one because unless you’ve seen rocks where there was once a glacier, there’s plenty of media out there that claims climate change is overblown.
Aside from your upcoming excursion to explore both the orcas and the plastic waste around Vancouver Island, what other excursions do you have on the horizon and what environmental issues will they explore?
DF: We’re excited to be part of Sustainable Brands 2018! Ocean health, including plastics, acidification and rising seas — along with water issues more broadly — are hugely important to us. We’re so excited to see panels on sustainable packaging, water risk, the circular economy, waste management and others at the event this year because so many of these issues are connected.
Next year, we’re launching our most ambitious effort to date with the SoulBuffalo Ocean Plastics Summit. This small gathering is the first ocean-based event dedicated exclusively to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 — Life Below Water. The SoulBuffalo Summit at the North Atlantic Gyre will set off from Hamilton, Bermuda and circumnavigate the country over the course of three days. During the excursion, attendees will ride on zodiac boats to trawl for plastics and engage in problem-solving workshops and roundtable discussions, while hearing about the latest scientific research and developments at our interactive innovation lab.