James Bushell is a man of many talents and has the unique ability to employ them in both the business and charity sectors to great success. After studying psychology at Otago University, James turned his capable hands to building companies including Colonial Limited, a vineyard in Blenheim which grows grapes for other wineries, Bedrock Limited, a development property, which was converted from a motel into seasonal worker accommodation and Bushell Consultants Limited which is his consultation vehicle for companies that need help. He's also responsible for starting a free educational programme in Thailand catering to over 200 children, speaks fluent Thai, volunteered with an elephant sanctuary near Bangkok and was a crew member for the 2011 Spinning Top Little Lotus Project. He's currently working on the launch of a social media start-up called POPin.
How did you get involved with the Spinning Top Little Lotus project?
I had been living and working in Thailand for several years when I heard my friend Pat was involved in a charity on the Thai/Burma border. I had previously established a free education programme in Thailand so was naturally curious about the work of Spinning Top Little Lotus. I decided to travel through the night to meet with Pat and his team in Mae Sot. I was impressed by their vision and work and have been involved ever since.
Tell us about SpinningTop?
SpinningTop brings vibrancy and creativity to charity work by the unconventional means of art and music. It is this unorthodox approach, which really appeals to me. Of equal importance is that this method does not dictate the type of work they do. SpinningTop plays an important role in the community, connecting with local communities and schools to find what will best improve the quality of life for those involved. They have supported many grassroots initiatives such as the knowledge sharing and agricultural programmes, which are led by Burmese groups.
What is it like on the Thai/Burmese border?
Hot! In some areas people live in shanty huts made from rubbish scraps. On the same road you may see huge houses, demonstrating the level of disparity all around. The people are very humble, kind, and extremely generous. I spent time visiting a local hospital and saw landmine victims in need of prosthetic limbs – this brought home the reality of how different my life is from theirs. We live in a country where we have so much freedom, to speak, paint, and to express ourselves, whereas in Burma they have to fight for this.
What advice can you give other charities or groups trying to work in that region?
My advice would be not to go in thinking you have the solutions. One needs to earn trust, build relationships, and deal with local needs. Many people believe that just ‘giving’ is enough to make a change. This can have detrimental effects on these micro communities. I would recommend understanding their culture and working with (not for) the communities to bring about positive change.
What did you learn about yourself during this project?
I rethought my ideologies of happiness. This experience gave me greater perspective of what is really important to me. It was also really inspiring just being around a great bunch of people who are incredibly talented and creative.
Do you have any future volunteering projects in the pipeline?
I have an on-going relationship with SpinningTop and I am helping prepare for the art exhibition in October 2012. We will display the skills of artists all over the world, inspired by the children in the Mae Sot community from our last visit. It will be held at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and I’m really excited about it. It will include live art demonstrations, music, and New Zealand school children sharing their ideas and artworks. The whole event is going to be a lot of fun.
Describe how you see business philosophy and charity work merging?
I think there is a lot of potential in this area. Given the right tools and support I believe that many successful businesses can be created. This is a great way of initiating self-sustaining projects. It will also provide local employment and inject money back into local communities. The process would need to be approached carefully as to avoid abuse and ensure the best outcomes for local communities and groups involved.