This is a story about when I realized the true value of that. A story that changed my life.
My name is Erik Bergman, I just turned 30 and I’m from Sweden. I come from a very ordinary family. I grew up having everything I needed – but I went to the rich and fancy school – but not being rich and fancy. Which made me feel like, the poor kid. Something that had a big impact on my self-esteem and the way I viewed life.
This, early on, gave me a big hunger for money.
After graduation I started running companies and about two years ago, my first company went public. I made 15 million dollars, in one day, on my 28th birthday.
It just felt amazing! I mean, the poor kid, was now the rich kid – and it felt like I had everything I ever wanted.
This was a feeling that lasted for about two weeks. Then I started feeling uninspired – and unmotivated – just lost. Was this, all there was?
Then my friend Emil introduced me to this charity project, call IT for Children. It’s a project in Ghana, in western Africa, about teaching kids to use computers. At first, I wasn’t very emotionally engaged, but I still felt, OK I’m looking for something, I want to do this. They needed 13 000 dollars to build a school, so I donated those money. It wasn’t until January last year that I really understood the value of that. We went down there on a trip to just visit and see what this project was all about. This trip, completely changed my way of seeing things.
I didn’t know anything about Ghana, it’s a country in the south western Africa. I flew down there, it was a very bumpy plane ride, got picked up by a crazy cab driver and driven to this village called Busua. It’s a small village in the south of Ghana with about 3000 people.
I remember when I stepped out of this cab. I hadn’t seen anything like this before – this, this was Africa. The first thing that hit me was a smell that I hadn’t felt before. It was, a mix of, dirt, farm animals and the ocean. It wasn’t a bad smell, it was just a very special smell.
I looked around and I saw houses of mud, some sheds of steel and some house of concrete. Everywhere were chickens and goats running around – I felt like, this is something new.
The first evening we just sat there and spoke about journey and what we were expecting from everything – but it was the next day, that turned out to be the day, that really changed my life.
I hadn’t even seen our school in a picture before. When we came there, my first feeling was, “this is like a war zone”. It was worn our grey concrete buildings. They had steel bars across the windows. It felt, depressing.
Then I saw our building – and it was this splash of colors. It was yellow, green and red – and it just felt happy! Something in this moment just felt right.
Then we got to be part of class. Our class started outside of the official school hours. It was completely voluntary but still there was a big line of kids, just waiting for the class to start. It turned out that we had to deny kids, because there were more kids that wanted to take the class than we had computers.
Imagine kids that really want to learn. I never felt that when I went to school, but this was something else.
In the classroom we got to see what they were learning. These kids, in the first class, they had never seen a computer before. First lesson is,
This is an electric cable, you plug it into the wall
This is an on-button, press it, to start the computer
And now, they were Googling, they were looking for information on Wikipedia, they were putting information into spreadsheets in Excel and writing down what they were doing in Word.
Just seeing how they learn and feeling how they really wanted to learn. It felt like – I want to contribute to this! I want to see this happen!
But it wasn’t until later that day that things really turned for me. I was talking to Torsten, who is the main guy behind this project. He told me that all the other teachers in the other school buildings could borrow our classroom whenever they wanted, because during the day we weren’t there.
But it was on one condition.
That in our school building.
You never hit the kids.
And this gave me a really strong feeling. For me it was so obvious that you never hit kids. But here, it wasn’t obvious.
In the grey buildings, the kids got hit.
In the grey buildings, the kids had to be afraid.
But in our splash of colors, the kids were safe! The kids wanted to learn, and the kids had fun!
I felt right there that I want the world to be a splash of colors. I want the world to be a place where people are happy and where people are safe.
After this trip I started to consider, what’s the best way for me to contribute. How can the world become that place? I started engaging myself in various projects and I started reading up on things. But I felt… this is not what I do best.
What I do best… Is making money.
I should make money, but I should give everything away. Every little penny.
So I quit my job, I quit everything with my previous business and I’m all in on this. I spend 900 000 dollars on just a name.
I know that this is going to be amazing.
This is going to be Great.com
A truly controversial charity about making money, and giving it away.