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Changing the world - inside out

Jo Aggarwal

"We jump at the chance to change the world, it takes far more to change ourselves.”

These words are from a deeply reflective article by digital health futurist Maneesh Juneja on how in spite of having the latest in 'care' technology, none of it seemed at all relevant as he struggle to cope with losing his sister. This resonated deeply.

I too have been trying to change the world for as long as I can remember.

Every time I jumped at the chance to do so, I too, had a niggling voice that pointed to the wall I had - between what I thought would work for the 'world at large' and what would work for me.

Working with young people in conflict zones, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Palestine, I tried to change the world. Moved countries, my husband to quit a career at Goldman Sachs. He too joined the cause. We changed lives, won awards, met kings and queens. There were costs. We couldn't be there for a parent who was growing old. We moved so often, our child had no deep

relationships except us. The niggling voice was back. Change must begin inside us, at home.

Making the call to find a higher optimum, meant dialing back our status, our earnings to zero. From global experts on employability, ed-tech, and finance, we became novices learning the basics of mental health and AI, figuring out how to create an early warning system for depression in elders.

It soon became even more personal. A close friend lost her son to suicide. I battled with founder depression. Again, what helped us in our time of need was not what we were using to 'change the world'. We needed empathy, but we were building sensor-based mood detection. While the mission was coming from a 'whole world' view, our hypothesis was still outside-in, not inside-out.

It took two years. Two years to unlearn all we knew and just observe. To listen to what was working, and make sure it worked for us, inside, and for our immediate world as well. To stop marketing, stop selling, stop seeking validation. To have the courage to only offer what worked for us. And then it started flowing on its own.

Wysa - an empathetic penguin bot - willed itself into existence, crashing every hypothesis we may have had (including the idea that humans, not technology, were the answer). She wasn't very sophisticated to begin with - we were new at AI then, but she had an instant emotional connect. She grew and found her audience, and had over three million conversations in a few short months.

Thousands of people, strangers, were writing in to say how the little penguin helped them face issues from bipolar to social anxiety. Last month, a young girl, wrote in to say she had tried to commit suicide and Wysa was all that was helping her hold on. We cried. Wysa had changed us. Now it was changing lives of strangers we had never met.

A cause that connects seamlessly across our inner and outer worlds becomes like a child. It has you doing things you never thought you would, and gives such joy that you let go of your ego, your concept of who you are, without a thought.

Maybe that is what changemakers are really looking for. A purpose to which we can surrender our self-concept, and which would cleanse us and change us as we dedicate ourselves to it. It is hard to find, but the journey starts with the courage to walk away from all we have professed expertise in and like Maneesh, look at it again from inside out.

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