A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by student bloggers from around the UK. 

By London School of Economics student, Francisco Abad

It was Sunday, the last day of Emerge; we just finished watching a great pitch competition and were ready to see the keynote which promised to be great. Thirty minutes later, there I was, standing up, tearing a little, clapping like I’ve never clapped. The story I just heard was truly unique, powerful and inspiring.
Let’s start from the beginning. I arrived that morning a little sleepy and hungry. I realized there were some fruit bars for breakfast. As I approached the breakfast counter, I bumped into this tall big man. That’s when I met James Brett. I grabbed one of the bars being served and put it in my pocket for later. During the networking before the pitch competition, I talked a little to James, but he was a little awkward and didn’t want to share much from what he was going to talk about as he had this badge that said “Speaker.” Little did I know that the bar I grabbed was from his company and that I had just met the man with the most incredible story I’ve ever heard.
During the keynote, James shared a very well done video about how he is helping Afghanistan by bringing the communities together to plant more pomegranate (Afghanistan happens to have the best pomegranate in the world). This video seemed to encapsulate what Plant for Peace does, and James as its head, so after the video was over, I wondered, what is he going to talk about now?
Once the video finished James said, “I’m going to tell you the story of my life…” I didn’t know what to expect. This is his shocking story:
James’ mother was a foster mom, so he grew up with lots of children coming in and out of his home as his mother would take care of them. James’ grandfather sexually abused him several times, which traumatized his childhood, and when he told his father, after denying it once, his grandfather admitted it. He was angry and sad, and one day when the government came home to give his mom another child to care, she denied it saying she has not been able to take care of her own kid. His mom later killed herself.
James had to go to the police to sign a form that absolved his grandfather from guilt because they told him he was a good citizen. James just did it and became a troubled teen determined to “make the world pay.” James then shared how he got involved in crime and how all his friends died in that life.
James went to jail where he started doing jobs, like cleaning up the excrement from the cells to avoid working out. Eventually, his sentence was reduced and he was freed. He was so troubled that he asked them to put him back in jail. As they didn’t let him do that, he “borrowed” a book about nature from the library and went to live in the woods alone. Then he shared how he had his first date and lived in the woods for a while. He learned so much about nature and created a drink from pomegranate which he commercialized and started to have a more “normal” life despite all he went through.
Moreover, he led his story into how he ended up in Afghanistan, still a troubled man, to start putting signs about pomegranate being the solution. The community came to him to ask him who he was and what he was doing. He shared how he was just him trying to get farmers to plant and harvest more pomegranate as an alternative to opium poppy seeds (used in heroine). After meeting with them various times, they all stood behind his recommendations and decided to take action. James shared why: “… they told me that I was the first white person without a uniform or helmet that has tried to help them.”
James later was approached by aid agencies, governments, etc., to help and scale his vision. They helped him create Plant for Peace and now he is bringing innovation to Afghanistan based on sincerity, honesty, and purpose.
My thoughts: He tells his own story 1 million times better than me, but I left that auditorium blown away because after all he went through in his life from a very early age, he was able to come up on top! I am a social entrepreneur, and I have failed a couple of times, but thankfully, I’ve never been through anything like what James had to live… There are no excuses!
James reiterated that his life story was about finding meaning and purpose to his life! Today, there are millions of people just like James, going through hell in their lives… abused, beaten, feeling defeated, lonely, depressed, anxious, sick. Many of these people might be around us: friends, family, acquaintances, and maybe we don’t even know. After this, I just reflected how important is to, as leaders and social entrepreneurs, treat other so kindly that they never feel their lives are worthless and with no purpose. James Story is amazing, but most of the people that go through traumas like him don’t have a happy story to share at the end of their lives because people around them reject them, mistreat them, or don’t help. My call to action is for us to be conscious about this and to empower one another to find purpose in life. Finally, if you relate to James’ story, remember that your life matters, it has a purpose and you are the only one that can make it happen!