Jane Goodall in Ottawa

April 22, 2016

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”   - Jane Goodall

Part of what I love about my work is having the opportunity to listen and learn from some of the world’s greatest minds. Last week, I had the incredible experience of seeing (and meeting!) Dr. Jane Goodall in Ottawa, with my seven year old daughter Juliet and her best friend Lola, at an event hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.

Dr. Goodall is perhaps best known for her studies of the chimpanzee, which have enlightened and delighted millions of people around the world. Although this work is fascinating, her personal observations, reflections and views on humanity were what left the audience spellbound.

A profound proponent of humanity, social justice and feminism, Dr. Goodall spoke of her mother with the highest praise. “If I were a bird that needs feathers to fly higher, my mother would be my strongest feather. She was extremely supportive. When I was one and a half, I took a whole handful of earthworms to bed with me. My mother said very quietly, ‘Jane, they will die if they leave the earth.’ And so, together, we put them back into the garden.”   

She also told a story from when she was a child, just over the age of four. “I went to an empty henhouse, hid in the straw at the back, and waited, and the family had no idea where I was … My mother sees this excited little girl rushing toward the house all covered in straw. Instead of getting mad at me, which would’ve killed the excitement, she saw my shining eyes and sat down to hear this wonderful story of how a hen lays an egg.”

During her talk, Dr. Goodall expressed that the freedom to be curious and make mistakes allowed her to become who she is today. Hearing this message, from an iconic woman and scientist, was particularly thrilling to all Actua staff in attendance.

Encouraging kids to make mistakes – lots of them – is central to Actua’s approach. We encourage parents and youth, especially young women, to move beyond their comfort zone and embrace failure as a critical stop on the road to success. Mentorship and the ability to make personal connections to role models, such as Dr. Goodall, is another key way to help future scientists see the possibilities ahead.    

I also found Dr. Goodall’s words comforting and invigorating as a mother.  So often as parents we feel constant pressure to stimulate our children with toys and experiences. Dr. Goodall was a little girl with a simple life and not a lot of money. Her tools were support, dreams and a big pile of used books. Her message to me was that it is not always what we do that matters but how we respond that can inspire. Our simple reactions to everyday situations are free, immediate and matter more to our children than we know.

Although Dr. Goodall’s lecture focused on grave environmental issues, her delivery left everyone in the room inspired and full of hope. Her encouraging words promised that each of us could do something to better the planet no matter how small. Agreeing with Prime Minister Trudeau that youth should be the leaders of today, not tomorrow, she insisted that it is critical to foster and instill personal action in young people all over the world.  All felt her personal message and connection to the children in the room. Juliet was never so proud to be a vegetarian and Lola still won’t let her mom wash the sweater she wore that night. Even though it was late, the girls left the room with a spark in their eyes so bright, I knew they would remember this day for the rest of their lives. 

I couldn’t be more proud to have Actua partner with the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, which helps combine science with the social community and environmental action.  Actua is an active proponent of the Roots and Shoots philosophy that every single individual makes a difference every single day. Big changes can come from very little and many of the tools we need are already inside of us. We, especially youth, are all change-makers.

“I like to envision the whole world as a jigsaw puzzle … If you look at the whole picture, it is overwhelming and terrifying, but if you work on your little part of the jigsaw and know that people all over the world are working on their little bits, that’s what will give you hope.”  - Jane Goodall