James Bushell

Inspired by the possibility of making someone’s life better gets Motif’s Director and One Percent’s Chair, James Bushell, out of bed each day.

A fan of millenials and their conscientious decision-making (go millenials!) and a member of the crew that sailed a vaka unassisted to Bougainville and back searching for sustainable cocoa beans for Wellington Chocolate Factory, James is pretty proud he hasn’t scared his family and friends away, yet.

I grew up with an awareness that a culture of caring for the community was important, but never really understood it until I was older. One day I was collecting money on the street as a kid with my mum for the Mallaghan Institute and counted it all at the end of the day – with supervision! To a young kid that was a big deal, and heaps of coins. I remember thinking that whoever was going to receive this bounty would have a decent supply of gobstoppers.

Much later, I set up a free educational facility in Thailand, which helped me realise the privilege I had been given and the responsibility I had to stand up for those who had not been afforded the same opportunities. One day, a small boy wandered in off the street and joined in with us. He’d been there awhile before his grandmother came in, intoxicated, and demanded money. When I explained that we wouldn’t give her any money she began to get violent and the boy ran over to me. It was one of the toughest things I’ve done, letting him go, but I told her that he could stay as long as he wanted, and come back at any time. We never saw him again. These days I try to influence the systems that allow this suffering and degradation to occur. For me, business has a massive impact on our societies and has the ability to enhance or exploit communities and environments. I want to help them enhance.

I frequently learn about how different environments can lead to extreme behaviours. Recently, I was in a situation where a group decided that they would murder someone because of where he was born. I tried to help him escape and they found out; I was held and threatened at gunpoint. The group live in a country that is rife with corruption and billions of dollars are diverted from healthcare, education and the justice system into back pockets. It is not surprising that people can hold such extreme views when they are not given the necessary basics that would enable them to thrive.

It is very easy to disassociate and dehumanise people’s actions when they are hidden behind a system like government or a business. For me, these systems are not intrinsically good or bad, it is the people who act morally or immorally. To overcome these hurdles we need more transparency. We need to hold people to account for their actions, and we need to treat business as the tool that it is and use them to make impact.

I love that I get to work on projects I believe will help create a more equitable and sustainable world. The people we work with amaze and inspire me. My days are very different: one day I might be working with farmers in Papua New Guinea, the next I will be sitting around a board table with business leaders and government officials. There is a lot of diversity in our work, which is really cool because they all want to work towards a better world, in their own way.

We have similar challenges as many other organisations: growth, budgets, cash flows, HR, balancing economics with ethics, but one of the unique challenges I find is promoting something that is ultimately unattainable and that I myself certainly do not always achieve. I don’t bike as much as I should, my food or drink is not always in a compostable or reusable container, planes are faster than walking. Like anything it’s a balancing act and there is a whole lot of grey. What I do know is that we, as a society, can certainly improve and strive for better outcomes and when we do mess up, get up and try again (myself included).

Learn more at motif.world

Words by Jd Nodder, image by Pat Shepherd. Article originally from The Generosity Journal Issue Five.

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