The American writer Christopher Morley once said, “There is only one success: to be able to spend your life in your own way.”
Most of us want to feel we have some control over our destiny. We want to make our own choices. We want to feel free. This is why so many of us spend our lives seeking something which only we can do, a legacy that will be remembered even after our death.
But interestingly, more and more, this drive to create a legacy is becoming less of a personal project to one that connects people together. In 2018, Deloitte reported the rising prominence of the social enterprise, a “shift [that] reflects the growing importance of social capital in shaping an organization’s purpose, guiding its relationships with stakeholders, and influencing its ultimate success or failure.”
From huge corporations to portrait projects like Humans of New York, it seems we, as a society, are learning that the best legacy is one we build together.
But within that interconnected impact, there is still something each of us can bring that is unique—something only you can do.
Taichi Ichikawa, cofounder and chief future officer of the educational company World Road, recently directed the book project WE HAVE A DREAM: 201 Countries 201 Dreams with Sustainable Development Goals. Compiling the dreams of young rising stars from 201 countries, this project is the future of globalization at its very best. It has even attracted the attention of global leaders, including Bangladeshi entrepreneur and economist Muhammad Yunus, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and Diplomat and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China, Eugene Chien.
How did Ichikawa achieve such scale and influential reach?
The answer is twofold: the right people and the right balance of fact and story.
Meeting the Right People
It may not always seem like it, but it’s rare for people to find success all on their own. Just consider how many big-name global companies are cofounded, including Microsoft, Google, and Apple. With the right people, any dream is possible.
Ichikawa found his “right people” through the platform One Young World (OYW), which holds an annual summit for young people and global leaders. It was this summit—and the people he met there—that would change his life and plant the seeds for WE HAVE A DREAM.
OYW invites inspiring speakers to its annual summit. In 2014, Ichikawa attended as a Japan ambassador, and one of these speakers was North Korean defector Yeounmi Park. When Ichikawa spoke to her after her talk, she told him something he’d never forget: that she gives speeches because her story something only she can share, despite the risk to her life.
“Since then,” says Ichikawa, “her words have echoed back to me from time to time. I had to ask myself, ‘What is the thing only I can do?’”
After the OYW summit in 2014, Ichikawa continued to attend OYW activities. At various events, he met further influential speakers, as well as sponsor companies of the organization. One such company was Japanese entertainment agency AMUSE INC., which offered him a job supporting the launch of new businesses. While working at AMUSE, he became close with company chairman Yokichi Osato.
Ichikawa recalls, “Osato always asked me, ‘You got any ideas?” At the time, he rarely had a good idea to share, but the lesson stayed with him: “Everything starts with an idea. You can’t make a better world without an idea.”
After AMUSE, Ichikawa went to work for a start-up, hopeful that he was on his way to his destiny. But just a year and a half later, he was back in his hometown feeling more lost than ever. The start-up had collapsed, and he was unemployed.
“I had no motivation to do anything,” he recalls. “I was just sleeping and playing video games.” In the back of his mind, however, was OYW. He recalled Park’s lesson of finding what she was uniquely able to do. His mind started turning again. He started getting ideas—that important fuel Osato had insisted everyone needed.
“I realized that contributing to global education was something I wanted to do more than anything,” he says.
But how to get from here to there?
A short time later, in November 2018, he met a young woman named Ibun Hirahara at a OYW event. Not only did Hirahara share her passion for education, but she had experience in PR and was at a similar crossroads in her career. Before they knew it, they were establishing a company together. In June 2019, World Road launched with a vision of “building the world into a single school.”
Through partnerships with private companies, local governments, and educational institutions, World Road stands at the intersection of education, business, and SDGs—something many stakeholders are still not sure how to put to use. World Road provides guidance on reflecting the true value and meaning of SDGs for a better society.
Balancing Fact and Story
In 2018, the international bestseller Factfulness brought global attention to how important it is to analyze data methodically and logically before forming an assumption. Indeed, what we believe to be a “fact” sometimes differs from person to person—that’s why data is important.
“Data is important,” Ichikawa acknowledges, “but people are not moved by data. I felt the power of story through Yeounmi Park. Her escape from North Korea does not apply to everyone, but her story can touch anyone.”
Ichikawa realized it’s subjective truth—the power of story—that strikes people’s hearts. And he’s not the first person to come to that conclusion. The World Economic Forum has identified storytelling as a positive force for social change. Harvard Business Publishing author Vanessa Boris agrees, saying, “Storytelling forges connections among people, and between people and ideas.” That was what Ichikawa wanted to do.
The Big Idea
Thinking about those connections in storytelling, Ichikawa was reminded of a book he’d read in high school—interviews with students from across Japan who shared their dreams.
What about something like that, he thought, but bigger? Multinational interviewees, instead of just Japanese students? Countries instead of prefectures?
Ichikawa reached out to the publisher of the Japanese book to see if there was interest in a global approach to the same basic idea. The publisher—and even the president—immediately said yes. Thus, the WE HAVE A DREAM project was born.
Park contributed her story as a hopeful voice from North Korea. Among other stories are Marly Muudenial Samuel from Namibia who empowers youth and communities through digital technologies. Her story recalls a great teacher who taught her how to use a computer. She hopes to do the same for the next generation: “[Change] starts with me.”
Another dream comes from Kirkland McIntosh in the Bahamas. As a counselor, volunteer, and activities coordinator, he dreams of a world where kids feel psychologically safe in every classroom by accepting each other’s differences.
The SDG Angle
Putting those dreams into the context of SDGs brought the whole project together in much the same way that SDGs added unique flavor to the mission of World Road.
Ichikawa emphasizes that the hundreds of young people who contributed, of course, have dreams that stretch far beyond the SDG finish line of 2030. But for now, through the lens of SDGs, the stories of WE HAVE A DREAM show how subjective truth can make the world better and act as a framework for navigating the next decade.
“We created this book to help eradicate the discrimination and bias causing conflict around the world,” says Ichikawa. “All the dreams in WE HAVE A DREAM are different, but they all have something in common: they all aim to make a better world. Isn’t that something everyone wants?”
The Pandemic Push
As the book came together during the global COVID-19 pandemic, Ichikawa felt the power of stories all over again. “Although I could not go out, there were so many interesting things going on in my laptop. More than 200 dreams arrived in my inbox, one after another.”
And with the pandemic draining motivation from people everywhere, Ichikawa knew the world needed WE HAVE A DREAM more than ever.
Never Stop Dreaming
WE HAVE A DREAM was released in English and Japanese in June 2021, but the work is far from done. Now Ichikawa and Hirahara face the second phase of the project: distributing the book to schools in all 47 prefectures of Japan and 201 countries around the world.
And that begins with OYW.
At the OYW 2021 summit in Munich, global leaders and young people will gather for four days to discuss taking action toward that collective dream of a better world. While there, Ichikawa will give a short speech about the WE HAVE A DREAM project. His hope is that the story will strike the hearts of people and have a positive impact. Perhaps, through WE HAVE A DREAM, he will have at last found that meaningful spark for his lasting legacy, that special something only he can do.