I’m writing this first blog post from a quiet corner of Bedfordshire in England. I am sitting at the kitchen table of my little flat, and as I write I am looking out on a lovely view of the Cranfield University campus and wondering how on earth I ended up here.
12 months ago I was just completing a post-graduate diploma in Spiritual Direction (yup, I’m a fully qualified spiritual director). Now I’m studying a full time Masters of Business Administration. Excuse me, but what the heck am I doing here? Surely this is the most unusual journey to an MBA anyone has ever taken?
Let me tell you my story.
My name is Lily Rattray. I was born in a small country town in Australia in 1978. In the same year I was born, my parents started a new business. It grew very quickly. They built offices and a factory on our property. I was taught to answer the phone professionally from a young age; I was involved in business decisions, in money worries. I managed staff, resolved customer complaints and was taught how to do sales and marketing. I developed a heightened sense for opportunity, I grew confident, I learned to trust myself and follow my instinct. Encouraged by my parents, I started my first proper business at the age of 8. I sold it to them when I went to boarding school aged 12, but started many more businesses during my school years. Business was in my blood. I always had new ideas. By the time I finished high school, my dream in life was to have a successful business, to be filthy rich and own a house in three continents (Europe, South America and Australia).
However at age 19, my life was totally changed by a trip to India. I had been travelling around the world for 8 months when I arrived. I’d been to America and Mexico, most of Europe and quite a few countries in South East Asia. But India hit me like a rock. I experienced a level of poverty and desperation there, a level of hopeless injustice that was quite overwhelming. For the first time in my life I felt powerless. I had thought I was a good person. I always gave to people in need. I was always generous. But in India, there were so many beggars, so many people in need that I simply could not give anything to them. If I had given everything I had, it wouldn’t have been enough even for the people I met in one day. The horror of so much suffering pierced me to the core.
When I came home, I considered the life I had planned out for myself. I knew I didn’t have the heart for it anymore. I knew I would end up sitting in my house in South America, perhaps on a perfect Brazilian beach somewhere, and I would be thinking about all the people who couldn’t afford to eat that day.
Deeply affected, I decided that in order to have peace in my heart, I needed to do something about poverty and injustice. I changed my university degree and changed the course of my life. I studied health science, community engagement and nursing. Early on I realised that I would be more affective in my crusade to change the world if I could change and influence the direction of other people’s lives and convince them to help. I became a youth mentor, a community engagement specialist and a public speaker. I worked in the Vatican, volunteered in India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. I learned to understand the human heart, to understand weakness, goodness pain and hope. I learned how to engage people and inspire them. During this time, I had an uneasy relationship with money and business. I worked, but only to have enough to live. For the first time in my life, I didn’t start any businesses. I couldn’t stop thinking about business though. I still wrote long lists of ideas. I saw new ideas everywhere. But I wasn’t at peace with myself about it. Naturally I continued to be involved in my family business, but more out of a sense of duty to my family than any real desire to be successful myself.
In 2014, I had another transformational experience, this time in Indonesia. A good friend of mine was from Flores, one of the outer islands in the far east of the archipelago. He asked me to make a visit to the island to see if there was any way I could help the poor people there. I went there alone for one month. My aim was to make connections and to visit as many poor families as I could. I wanted to get an idea of what their real needs were and how I could help. I had in mind doing some health promotion campaigns, perhaps organising some equipment for the hospital. Instead, I wrote a sixteen-page business plan for Flores. There are just so many opportunities for business everywhere, all I could see was dollar signs. Flores is resource rich; they have coffee, spices & cacao. But these are mostly exported at the cheapest price, in a raw state without being value added in anyway. They needed entrepreneurs. And in that moment, the two sides of me, held apart for so many years, came back together again. Business with heart. I felt whole. I felt excited.
I went back and shared my experience with my fellow spiritual direction cohort. And, as fate would have it, one of my good friends on the course was an alumnus of Cranfield University. Claire took me aside and suggested I do an MBA. She sent me the links and encouraged me to apply for the Australian Scholarship. When I realised what a prestigious university Cranfield was, I was doubtful they would let someone like me in. I hadn’t exactly concentrated on my career! The application process seemed long and daunting. But the more I looked into it, the more I realised this was a perfect move for me. It would make sense of all my experience; it would give me the skills I needed to increase my chance of being a successful entrepreneur.
I applied for the MBA at Cranfield University. I was accepted. I also won the 2015 Australian Alumni Scholarship. And now, here I am, sitting in my little flat in a quiet corner of Bedfordshire, writing about it and still feeling a little stunned!
I made a decision after my trip to India that I would follow the direction my heart set for me. I allowed myself to be moved to action by sadness at the injustice and poverty I had seen. In doing that, I assumed I would be throwing away my chance for a successful career. But it has turned out so differently from what I expected. The journey of the heart is fundamentally a journey of freedom. I learned to be radically and authentically myself; the passionate business woman with heart. I want to change the way the world works and I want to do it by being an entrepreneur. It’s a big dream, so I’m going to need your help. But more on that soon…