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Hearing Everything When I Couldn’t Understand Anything

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Had a 39-hour “layover” in Tokyo on my way to Singapore for the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network Conference. And somewhere in that bustling city, my cell phone got pasted with an SVP Tokyo sticker.

I spent the afternoon with 40 SVP Tokyo Partners at their annual 2-day retreat (that ain’t happenin’ in Seattle). Other than Miki Aoki occasionally leaning over to clarify something being said, 99% of it was unintelligible for me … and it didn’t matter at all. In fact, I may have heard a lot more by just watching and feeling the room for 4 hours.

What I could feel was clear as could be – positive energy, a genuine collegiality, frequent fun and laughter, deep thoughtful conversations. And more than anything, I could see and feel that unmistakable, tangible, powerful sense of shared purpose and real commitment, not just to SVP, but to their community.

Tokyo Visit 3

It’s the same as I feel from Boston, Beijing, and Bangalore. The language and players and culture are undeniably different, but the ethos, that kind of person in the room and the way they bring their whole selves to social change, was truly, powerfully common. (I wrote more about this last summer when I traveled to Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul.)

We went to dinner that night at a restaurant, a social enterprise along the lines of Seattle’s FareStart, and several Partners got up and talked about why they had joined and what SVP meant to them. At moments like that, I just sort of put my head down, listen to the words, and can barely hold back tears more than once at what we have all made possible all over the world. I’ve said it before, think it a thousand times more than I say, and I’ll do both countless times again – I am just overwhelmed when I sit and hear people from, literally, all over the world talk about SVP.

SVP Tokyo Post-Its

One of the exercises in Tokyo – that’s the Post-It’s on the wall in the photo above – was each partner expressing, for them, what SVP is today and what it is not. (Tokyo started in 2003, so they have been around for a long journey.)

Among other things, they expressed that SVP is not an organization, it’s a movement, a network, and how central the partnership relationship with investees is. Wow, we talked about both of those things this month in Seattle.

I know it’s not trivial to get on a plane and go to Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Melbourne, India (3 cities), and London to visit an SVP(s), but if you do, I promise you will hear and feel way more than you ever thought possible.

Thank you, Takashi, Takuya, Miki and everyone at SVP Tokyo. Now if I can just figure out who affixed that “SVP Tokyo” sticker to my phone … actually it looks pretty good.


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