Inspiration Report

Vijay_Eswaran_portraitMalaysian entrepreneur, Vijay Eswaran, is Executive Chairman of the Quest International Group, a controlling shareholder of Sri Lankan blue chip Asia Capital and is featured among the top 50 philanthropists in Forbes Asia’s annual list of Heroes of Philanthropy in the region. This list includes some of Asia-Pacific’s most high profile philanthropists.

Eswaran is involved in a number of charitable projects through a variety of organizations. His RHYTHM Foundations is involved in education initiatives, disaster relief and children and community development. The Malaysian chapter of RHYTHM, the Vijayaratnam Foundation, was established in honor of Eswaran’s father and is involved in the empowerment of youth and women, the arts, culture child mentoring and environmental protection projects in Malaysia. The RHYTHM Foundation provided assistance following some of the most devastating natural disasters of this century including the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, the 2006 Central Java earthquake in Indonesia, the Typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines in 2010 and the flooding of coastal Sri Lanka. Eswaran is also involved in the Foundation of Goodness which seeks to narrow the gap between urban and rural life in Sri Lanka. In 2007, the Foundation of Goodness donated the only pediatric laparoscopy machine in Sri Lanka to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital.

Eswaran, however, was not always flying high. Eswaran was born into a middle class family in Malaysia. He was lucky enough to receive some scholarship money to attend college, and he made up the difference driving a cab part-time. It was during this period of his life that Eswaran had a chance encounter with a monk who was meditating on the side of a cliff in the Himalayas. When Eswaran asked why the monk was sitting so near “the edge of such an abyss,” the monk replied, “Are we all not just two minutes from the abyss anyway?”

This simple acceptance of danger and risk changed Eswaran. It pushed him to take the risks necessary to become an entrepreneur even when Asia was still reeling from the 1997 financial crisis. Now, Quest International Group is a multinational conglomerate that deals with direct selling, real estate, education, retail and hospitality in more than 30 countries. Eswaran has also published two books. His is the story of a man who made himself by being willing to take risks. “Every time we expanded into a new market, or made an investment, or launched a new product, we were taking a risk and my advisors made sure I knew it. But our sense of urgency and sense of adventure paid off…Without this chance encounter with a danger loving monk high in the mountains, my life would look very different.” Given the extent of Eswaran’s philanthropic reach, it is likely that monk changed far more lives than he ever realized.

25097828852_4a5bf835a0_bReddit is famous for containing all sorts of bizarre lists and internet debates. More than one person has left Reddit, Tumblr and other social media or discussion platforms behind due to both excessive negativity and chains of insults from anonymous users. Recently, however, Reddit called on its users to name “the most amazing thing a complete stranger has ever done for you.” Users responded with a lengthy list that runs the gamut from amusing to deeply moving and from ordinary to nearly superhuman.

The person with the username VistaVille_Mac gave a shout out to those who took care of him in foster care. He said, “I was in foster care as a kid, and looking back, it was very kind of those people who were strangers to me before I moved in to open their home up to me and take care of me.”

Another person used Reddit’s call for stories of random acts of kindness to thank the stranger who saved their life when they had cancer. “A stranger donated the bone marrow that helped cure my leukemia. She was truly amazing, as far as I am concerned, and so can you!” This person ended their post with a link to Be The Match [LINK:], the website for the National Marrow Donor Program. Be The Match works to grow their bone marrow donor registry. They currently have the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world.

Other Reddit stories were not as dramatic or life changing, but they still made various users’ days. One user told the story of how two men helped them when they totaled their car. “I totaled my SUV in the middle of nowhere in Maryland at 1 a.m.,” user chris_vader17 wrote. “I had the whole family in the vehicle when the tire exploded, and I lost control and spun into the guard rail. Luckily, I was the only one injured. But two guys on a road trip stopped and helped my family out of the car and waited 35 minutes for the ambulance to come. Nicest guys ever.” Numerous other users added similar stories about strangers who helped them when they had car trouble.

User cheekyfinnegan15 told a story of when they were young and were shown a random act of kindness by a bus driver. According to their story, “We were quite tight on money. My mom married early and was in her mid-20s at that time. I remember me and my mom just walking down the street at night. I can’t remember if we were lost or what we were doing there. While we were walking, a bus pulled up on the road and opened its door. The kind bus driver urged us to go inside and ride for free (it was freezing cold) and take us to our destination. My mom rejected first but the bus driver insisted. I don’t remember much after that but I could feel my mom’s relief and gratitude to the guy.”

The full listing of Reddit users’ responses is available online. The stories are varied, but many of them drive home the point that even small actions can have a big effect. More than one user tells the story of how they were suffering, and a small act of kindness, such as a stranger buying them coffee, gave them the strength to carry on. Read through the list of inspiring stories. Then, go do a random act of kindness yourself and pay the inspiration forward.

L'Oréal_logo.svgL’Oreal Paris UK has made history by featuring a woman wearing a hijab in a hair care advertisement. The ad promotes L’Oreal’s new Elvive campaign and features the beauty blogger Amena Khan, a British Muslim who wears her hijab in public and in the advertisement. Khan was excited to be a part of the advertisement, and she sees her inclusion as a major step toward correcting a common misconception about Muslim women.

“You have to wonder,” Khan said, “Why is it presumed that women who don’t show their hair don’t look after it? The opposite of that would be that everyone that does show their hair only looks after it for the sake of showing it to others. And that mindset strips us of our autonomy and our sense of independence. Hair is a big part of self-care.”

In an interview with Vogue UK, Khan also pointed out that even though she wears her hijab in public, she leaves her hair uncovered at home and around her loved ones. “For me, my hair is an extension of my femininity. I love styling my hair, I love putting products in it, and I love it to smell nice. It’s an expression of who I am,” Khan said. “Even if that expression is for my home life and my loved ones…it’s who I am. If I know my hair is greasy but I have a scarf on it, I still feel rubbish all day—even if it’s covered.”

L’Oreal’s decision to cast Khan in their advertisement has received mixed responses. Many people are delighted at seeing the diverse group of individuals in the advertisement and have spoken out on social media in favor of the decision. Muslim women in particular have cheered Khan’s inclusion.

Some people, however, felt that including Khan was purely a political statement. More than one person commented on social media stating that it made no sense to use a hijab-wearing woman in a hair-care commercial because viewers cannot see the woman’s hair.  Several people also criticized Khan’s inclusion due to her previous anti-Israel tweets. The tweets have since been deleted, but the tweets have caused some people to question why L’Oreal chose to feature Khan instead of another Muslim woman.

Despite the controversy, Khan believes that her appearance in the ad is a step forward for diversity in advertising. “Even prior to [wearing the hijab in public] I didn’t see anyone I could relate to in the media,” Khan said. “I always wanted to be somehow in television or in media but it felt like a pipe dream…I think seeing a campaign like this would have given me more of a sense of belonging. I trusted L’Oreal that they would communicate the message well. If the message is authentic and the voice behind it is authentic, you can’t deny what’s being said.”

It is unclear how much revenue the advertising campaign will bring to L’Oreal, but it has certainly caught the attention of women all over the world. How the controversy will be resolved is still in question, but the ad is helping break down lingering stereotypes which is never a bad thing.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a U.S. federal holiday in honor of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Three years later, the first Martin Luther King Day was celebrated on the third Monday of January.

Today, many people spend Martin Luther King Day performing acts of service in their communities. The day is technically a national day of service according to the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act. This act made the third Monday in January the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. It is to be a “day on, not a day off.” Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans take those words to heart and make it a point to help others. People tutor or mentor children, paint schools or senior centers, deliver meals, build homes, donate blood or volunteer at homeless shelters in their local communities. Many of these projects continue on past Martin Luther King Day and assist the people of a community all year.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his role in the Civil Rights Movement and his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. This famous speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, but it actually debuted in a North Carolina gymnasium. In 1962, King spoke for nearly an hour to the 1,800 people who crammed inside a gymnasium in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It was here that King first said the famous words “I have a dream.”

This moment in history was all but forgotten until a North Carolina State English professor discovered that King once spoke in Rocky Mount and that his speech had been recorded. The tape was damaged, but King’s first “I Have a Dream” speech was successfully restored. The restored speech included all three of King’s most iconic endings: “Let freedom ring,” “How long, not long” and “I have a dream.” Hundreds of people have expressed interest in listening to this early speech, and a partial recording is available online.

While many people will undoubtedly listen to Martin Luther King, Jr’s speeches today, thousands more will join in marches in honor of the Civil Rights hero. It is, perhaps, those who spend the day quietly serving others that best honor King today. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr once famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” How will you spend America’s 32nd Martin Luther King Day?