Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Social Work in Amsterdam

On the morning in December that my mother died I was in Amsterdam opening a Saatchi & Social exhibition. The exhibit had been put together by Jan Muller and his team and they had arranged an incredible venue De Oude Kerk (Old Church). The Church is right in the center of the red light area and is the burial ground for many of the Amsterdamers who were instrumental in founding New York. It was a wonderful place for me to walk to having received the phone call from my sister only one hour earlier. I was able to take some quiet time in the Church and was then lucky enough to be surrounded by many caring Saatchi & Saatchi Amsterdam friends who could not have been more family-like. It was a tremendous comfort to me and I will be forever grateful to those warm Dutch men and women (and a few Scandinavians and English too).

The Church was kind enough to take me into a private room where Rembrandt got married and showed me around the 600-year old garden. They told me that many of the working women use the Church for solace and it was great to see this spiritual home was still being used to comfort human beings in their hour of need.

The Saatchi & Social exhibit is something of which I’m very proud. The original idea came from my dearest friend Paolo Ettorre and first opened in Milan in 1995.

The works on show at the Oude Kirche spanned some 35 years of Saatchi & Saatchi Social Campaigns from the iconic “Pregnant Man” to more recent work from my friends at the Amsterdam Agency. The exhibition confronts many issues we wish we’d never had to: Child abuse, cancer, road safety, STDs, war, racism, drugs, torture, contraception, censorship and the environment. The work can shock, frighten and sometimes even hurt – but all of it is designed to make people think and act.

The greatest threat to humanity is not poverty, pollution or persecution, it is indifference. Each and every one of us has to make choices, to do the right thing and to inspire others to act and to make a difference.

We have to break the truth out, attract attention and get commitment on issues of serious public importance. We have to transform a numbed response to a seemingly overwhelming problem, to move people and let them know that their involvement matters.

Global enterprises have to lead global change. The role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone. The role of individuals is not to look away but to look ahead, to show courage, to commit and to act. We can realize dreams. And each one of us can make a difference.

That’s why I’m proud of the exhibition, and thankful for all of the beautiful human energy that has gone into making a difference where it has been needed most.

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