Land of Marvels

You will travel in a land of marvels. ~ Jules Verne



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What a Bumpy Bus Ride in Cambodia Taught Me about Leadership


In 2012, I quite spontaneously decided to book a flight to Phnom Penh, the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia in South East Asia, also known as the Pearl of Asia. The reactions of people close to me, as they heard about my upcoming trip, were quite astonished and anxious, with comments such as “How do you dare to travel so far away alone?”, and “What will you do there in the month of July, is not it a rainy month in that part of the world?”. The first leadership lessons I learned through my own actions, as well as through the reactions of people around me were: wow, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, I am courageous enough to do so (on my own), and, I can listen to people around me yet I am the one who decides what to do with my life. 

I have to admit myself that traveling to Asia by myself for a month was something that made me feel very excited, especially after hearing the concerned comments of those closest to me. I do not even remember why I decided to go on the trip in the first place, but I guess it was the adventurer and explorer in me that needed to get away from the daily routines and to expand my knowledge about the world. It was not my first time in Asia, since I had traveled to Thailand many times; although never before alone. I had also read about Cambodia beforehand, and borrowed some travel books in my local library in Finland to plan my tour. I was going to tour around not only Cambodia, but also the neighboring countries Laos and Vietnam. The preparation also required a visit to the doctor who wrote me a prescription for malaria medication. Vaccinations against hepatitis and other diseases I already had from earlier trips. 

My anxiety vanished as soon as I arrived at the airport in Phnom Penh. Instantly, I met another woman, who had arrived with the same connecting flight from China. While waiting for our luggage, we started an interesting conversation. She told me that she had been in Nepal with her mother prior to her arrival in Phnom Penh. Since we were both heading in the same direction, we decided to share a taxi. Arriving at the hotel I had booked for the first two nights, everything was dark. It was about 2 a.m., so I had to ring a doorbell. I had informed the hotel staff about my late arrival, so it was no surprise for them. Soon after ringing the bell, someone came to open the door, checked me in, and gave me the key to my room. After a long journey, I slept very tight that night, and felt relieved as I woke up to the sunlight and tropical weather the next morning. 

After spending a day and another night in Phnom Penh, I took a local bus to Sihanoukville. There are no railways in Cambodia, so the only way of traveling from a place to another is either by bus or by taxi. Sihanoukville is a small town located in the very south of Cambodia, directly at the Gulf of Thailand. After two days of diving in the waters surrounding Sihanoukville, I left this backpackers paradise and headed towards Siem Reap. The local bus trip from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap was supposed to take eight hours, but the reality was very different. We left early in the morning, driving through Phnom Penh again, and from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. A few days before another tourist that I had met had told me about his travel experiences, and suggested that I under no circumstances would take the bus to Vientiane (Laos), due to the fact that the roads are very bumpy, and the number of mosquitos in the bus was everything but pleasant. I took his words seriously, especially when personally experiencing the bumpy bus trip from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. Despite of making acquaintance with interesting people during the bus ride, I was exhausted as we arrived in Siem Reap late that night. The bus ride had taken about 13 hours, instead of the eight hours indicated on the schedule, with most of the ride being extremely bumpy (the roads in Cambodia are not in excellent condition, at least not in 2012). At this point I realized that taking the bus from Siem Reap to Vientiane would take ages, and the only reasonable way to get there would be to fly directly from Siem Reap. This, however, is another story, or a continuation of the same story, perhaps to be told at a later point. 

On the way to Takeo/Siem Reap. Photo by Anne-Maria Yritys. 2012.
On the way to Takeo/Siem Reap. Photo by Anne-Maria Yritys. 2012.

The journey to Indochina, including the bumpy bus ride, taught me many things about myself, and about leadership:

  • If you never step out of your comfort zones, you will never grow as an individual/as a leader.  
  • To become a better leader, learn how to handle and respect yourself first.
  • Leadership is hard work. If you want to grow as a leader, you have to be prepared to “get your hands dirty”.
  • Whenever you meet new people remember, we all have a personal story to share. Instead of judging others, be compassionate and try to understand the other person.
  • Not everyone has to travel across the world to become a good leader, yet, seeing different countries and learning about other cultures is a learning experience, and great leaders never stop learning/growing! Traveling is an eye-opener. If you do not have the possibility to travel in “reality”, there are other ways of learning about different cultures, e.g. by reading and/or watching documentaries.
  • Pushing your personal boundaries will be worth the effort. Always do something to overcome your fears. However, never do anything that would harm you or anyone else!
  • Leadership is not only an external journey, but also a willingness to go inward, into your own mind, without fears. I met a local man on the bus ride, who had been a monk for some time before returning back to “normal” life. Hearing his story was fascinating. There are times for solitude. Never be afraid of being alone and tapping into your inner wisdom.
  • Great leaders are great listeners and observers.
  • Always be open for surprises and for changes. Planning is important, yet, the only thing that is constant is change. Do not fear change, instead, embrace it! It will make life much more pleasant for both you, and those around you. Great leaders are always willing to lead change.
  • Success is about overcoming your fears, and losing unnecessary boundaries. Leadership always requires some risk-taking and being capable of tapping into unknown territories. Brave leaders are both open and willing to expand their horizons.
  • You are never alone in this world, and the possibility of traveling is also a possibility of personal development, and growth. The more you know and understand about the world, different cultures, and people, the more abundant you become. I was surprised at noticing how many people travel alone in South East Asia. These countries are a paradise for backpackers, many of whom are very young and traveling even for months alone.
  • Always do some research before “jumping” into something. This applies to everything: business, relationships, traveling. Use your common sense, and learn from those with more experience. If there is no time for research, listen to your INTUITION. Your intuition will know what is the right thing to do. And, if you feel insecure about your intuition, do use ethical and moral codes before jumping into any conclusion/decision.
  • Always respect different people, and cultures, and be willing to adapt to local conditions.
  • Be grateful and thankful for all the experiences that life gives you. Hardships and obstacles are usually our best teachers.
  • Great leaders have patience. And if not, they exercise patience.
One of many temples in Siem Reap. Photo by Anne-Maria Yritys. 2012.
One of many temples in Siem Reap. Photo by Anne-Maria Yritys. 2012.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

(Lao Tzu)

How Can You Become a Master Alchemist and Transmute Everything You Touch into Gold?

“Midas (Μίδας), a King of great fortune in the Greek Mythology, had everything a King could ever wish for. His life was surrounded by luxury in a great castle, and filled with abundance. Midas, spelled by gold, spent all his days counting his gold coins. He also enjoyed covering his body with gold objects, desiring to bathe in them, and obsessed with money.” 

One day, Dionysus, the god of wine, passed through the Kingdom of Midas. One of his companions, a satyr named Silenus, got delayed along the path. Silenus got tired, deciding to have some rest in the famous rose gardens surrounding King Midas ́ palace. Napping there, he was found by the King, who invited him to spend a few days at his palace. The days went by, and finally Midas brought Silenus back to Dionysus. The god of celebration, thankful to Midas for his kindness, promised Midas to satisfy any of his wishes. Midas, after a while of reflection, responded: “I hope that everything I touch becomes gold”. Dionysus warned the King, stating that he should think well about what he wished for, but Midas was certain. Obeying the King ́s wishes, Dionysus had no choice but to promise Midas that from that day on, everything he touched would turn into gold.

The following day Midas woke up eager to see if his wish would come true, extending his arm, and touching a small table immediately turning into gold. Jumping with happiness, Midas continued by touching everything around him, turning everything he touched into gold. At the breakfast table, he took a rose in his hands to smell its delicate fragrance. As you already can guess by now, the rose turned into gold, leaving Midas feeling disappointed. The same happened with his bread, and water, which made Midas feel fearful. With tears in his eyes, he hugged his daughter who had just entered the room, and she turned into a golden statue. In despair, Midas raised his arms, praying to Dionysus to remove the curse. Dionysus felt sorry for Midas, and told him to go to the river Pactolus to wash his hands. Listening to Dionysus advice this time, Midas did what he was told. After washing his hands in the river, everything went back to normal. Filled with joy, Midas hugged his beloved daughter, and decided to share his great fortune with his people. From that day on, Midas turned into a better person, generous and grateful for all goods of his life. With his help, the people of his Kingdom led a prosperous life”. ( Quoted 14.10.2014).


Lessons of the story? Plenty:

– Be careful what you wish for – it may come true. 

– Learn to appreciate the differences around you, including things that may feel small, but are important in the cycle of life. 

– Listen to people, and people ́s advice (your personal advisers/trusted person/consultant, who or whatever that may be in your life/career). 

– Lead with your heart, and have respect for the people around you. 

– Take responsibility for your actions. 

– Being greedy can be destructive for the environment. 

– Being self-centered can be destructive for relationships.

– When accumulating wealth, do it for a good reason. 

– When accumulating wealth, be prepared and ready to share, help, and use your wealth for increasing prosperity for everyone, thus improving other people’s lives as well.

– Money is not the key to happiness. 

– Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are usually keys to (personal) development. Just make sure that you do not make mistakes that others have to pay for, or mistakes that have a disastrous effect on e.g. the environment. 

And, finally: You cannot eat gold!


Influencing Positive Change In The World Through Global Education

A few weeks ago the UN Association of Finland organized a school visitation education in Turku, the purpose of which is to educate volunteers willing to visit schools in order to share information about the UN, its principles, and its goals as a non-governmental organization.

In Finland, UN school visitors can be requested through the UNA of Finland:

School visits are open and available to all kinds of educational institutions and tailored according to the age and interest of the pupils/students. The visit can include general facts about the UN and its activities, or be focused around a specific topic, e.g. the UN Millennium Development Goals 2000.

Founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 states to protect the world from new wars, the UN (United Nations) is the world´s most important co-operational organization. Over the course of the years the UN has of course changed and developed, trying to adjust its operations according to the most important needs and most urgent matters of its member states. In 2013, the UN had 193 member states.

The main goals of the UN are:

– To maintain international peace and security through peaceful means in solving disputes and conflicts

– To develop friendly relations between nations (autonomy and equal rights)

– Generate and accomplish co-operation to solve economical, social, cultural and humanitarian problems

– To advance human rights and their universality

– To serve as a co-operational centre for all nations

According to the principles of the UN, all member nations are plenipotentiary and equal, must fulfill the obligations of the UN Charter, resolve all international conflicts with peaceful means, and help the UN in all actions taken by the UN according to its Charter.

The main bodies of the UN are:

– The General Assembly

– The Security Council

– ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council)

– The Secretariat

– The International Court of Justice

– The Trusteeship Council

(Sources: Leisma, 2009; printed material produced by the UN Association of Finland).

The previously mentioned UN Millennium Development Goals 2000 are:

1. Eradication of extreme hunger and poverty

2. Achievement of Universal Primary Education

3. Promotion of Gender Equality and Empowering Women

4. Reduction of Child Mortality

5. Improvement of Maternal Health

6. Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases

7. Ensuring Environmental Sustainability

8. Global Partnership for Development

(Source: UNA printed material, UN Millennium Development Goals website, quoted 16.4.2014).

Wide-ranged and large goals, but perfectly achievable with commitment from all UN member nations.

Are we close to achieving these goals, or have we already achieved some of them?

I will discuss each of these goals separately in my upcoming posts, with facts and personal thoughts.


What is “The Land of The Lucky Children”?

My journey a couple of years ago to Cambodia, the Land of Peace and Prosperity, was a didactic experience and an eye-opener in many ways. Not only did I learn about the history of the homeland of some of South East Asia ́s most amazing archaeological sites, including the re-known Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm + hundreds of other temples, but also about the contemporary way of life in this amazingly beautiful country, neighborhood by Thailand in the West, Laos in the North, and Vietnam in the East.

Yet, not so many decades ago, the Land of Peace and Prosperity was the centre for a bloody civil war, the Cambodian Genocide. In 1975, orchestrated by Pol Pot, the local communist party the Khmer Rouge, invaded the capital Phnom Penh, driving Cambodian citizens out of their homes. Innocent people were forced to prison camps, where they had to work like slaves with little or almost no food allowed. Every non-communist was under life-threat, especially doctors, teachers, non-communist politicians, and other intellectuals. Many were killed. According to estimations, more than 2 million innocent people lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge regime. Women were commonly raped, and many children, including girls, were forced to become child soldiers. One of these children managed to flee to the United States with her brother, and is today a national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine Free World. Loung Ung has also shared her experiences and her story in two of her books: “First They Killed My Father – A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers”, and “Lucky Child – A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites With The Sister She Left Behind”.

What do wars/civil wars teach us?

Personally I learned at least the following facts:

– Democracy protects human rights

– Bad governance (including a high amount of corruption) can be disastrous in protecting equality and for economic development in a state

– Wars are disastrous for the well-being and general development of a country.

– The aftermath of wars, and genocides, together with a high level of corruption, will influence the economic development of a region for years, even decades.

Cambodia is still today, although developing, one of the poorest countries in the world. Cripples are a common view on the streets – legs or arms or both missing, these people are crawling on the streets trying to find a way to make a living – mainly by begging from tourists. War makes people suffer not only physically, but also mentally. Many parents, unable to work, prefer sending their children to the streets, earning money to the family e.g. through selling souvenirs or books to tourists.

Garment workers are transported on the back ́s of open vans like animals to factories, where they work for long hours with a monthly pay of no more than a maximum of 100-150 USD. Due to the amount of medical workers killed during the civil war, good doctors and hospitals are still missing. Local people who can afford it commonly travel to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam in order to get professional medical treatment.

I must admit that I feel uncomfortable buying clothes with a label stating “made in Cambodia,” especially after personally seeing the local conditions.

As a tourist in Cambodia I was considering whether my journey really was of benefit for the people, and if it actually is morally and ethically right to buy clothes produced in Cambodia. What do you think?


Female Leadership and Gender Equality

“I never pay attention to age or gender. There are just too many other more important things to consider.” (Martha Stewart, Founder, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia).

If everyone thought like Martha Stewart, we wouldn´t need any further discussions about the state of female leadership or about its future. But in reality, we are far from gender equality in leadership worldwide.

Currently, only a good four percent of all Fortune 500 CEO´s are female. This is, however, an increase from the two percent in 2007.

How can this be explained? According to some research/ers, women seeking leadership roles face persistent and pervasive barriers, including gender bias in leadership opportunities, gender inequalities in family responsibilities, inflexibility in workplace structures, and inadequacies in social policies. (Kellerman, B. and Rhode, D.L. 2007).

There is, however, evidence of strong female leadership in history. The eldest proof of female leadership comes from Egypt: Queen Cleopatra, who reigned 51-30 BC, was not the only Egyptian female pharaoh, but the last and probably the best known. She first ruled jointly with her father and later with her brothers, but became eventually a sole ruler.

Other strong female leaders throughout history are Joan of Arc (leader of the French Army 1412-1431), Isabella I of Castile (Queen of Spain 1451-1504), Catherine de Medici (Queen of France 1519-1589), Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), Elizabeth I (Queen of England 1533-1603), Amina (Nigerian Queen 1560-1610), Mbande Nzinga (Angolan Queen 1582-1663), Catherine the Great (Empress of Russia 1729-1796), Victoria (Queen of England 1819-1901), Tsu-hsi (Empress of China 1835-1908), Liliuokalani (Last Monarch of Hawaii 1838-1917), Golda Meir (Prime Minister of Israel 1898-1978), Indira Gandhi (Prime Minister of India 1917-1984), and Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of England 1979-1990). ( 20.10.2013).

Many of these women were born into monarch families and thus did not have to work their way to influential and powerful positions.

Today, the number of powerful women across the world is larger than ever. The most powerful woman, according to Forbes´ ranking, is Germany´s Chancellor Angela Merkel ( 20.10.2013), followed by Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, Melinda Gates, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg and many others. It is interesting that so many of the 100 most powerful women worldwide are actors, entrepreneurs and musicians, including Beyonce Knowles, Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey and J.K. Rowling.

In the Nordic countries, the proportion of female leaders is higher than in most other parts of the world. Why?

Gender equality is at core of the Nordic identity. We share many common features simultaneously with varying gender equality policies. To enhance gender equality in the Nordic region, the Nordic countries share and learn from each other´s experiences through political discussions and test most effective strategies in order to achieve common goals.

Despite of decades of work in this sector, the labor market and educational sector in the Nordic countries remain more or less gender divided, characterized by men still holding most leading positions, and women having the main responsibility on the home front. Prostitution and (domestic) violence against women and children still remain two major unsolved problems. ( 20.10.2013).

Finland was the third country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1906. Finland also had a female president for twelve years (2000-2012), Tarja Halonen, who was re-elected in 2006. Today, 85 of the 200 seats (42,5 %) in Finnish parliament are occupied by women. Nine of 19 ministers are female.

In Finland, the number of women in leadership and management roles has grown in the past years in both private and public sectors. Women are also higher educated than men. In some industries, however, the proportion of women is clearly smaller, and there is a tendency of a higher ratio of women leaders in industries already dominated by women. Women leaders are on the average higher educated than their male counterparts. On a European level, Finland has one of the highest numbers of female leaders. In the number of female c-level executives, however, Finland ranks as the third last country in whole Europe.

On a European level, women account for about a third of all director and chief executive roles. In whole Europe, about 30 per cent of all public companies have one or several women at executive group level, compared to 90 per cent in the United States. In the past year, the number of women in board´s has slightly grown in the past years. The European Commission has appealed to European firms in order to speed up the change. Some European countries, e.g. Norway, use contingencies for board members. Although these contingencies have increased the number of women as board members in Norway, the number of women in middle management or at executive level remains the same. Of all board members in Europe only about 12 per cent are female. In Finland and Sweden the same number is about 26 per cent. In Finland this can perhaps be explained by a corporate governance recommendation from 2010 according to which a company board must be represented by both genders. This CG recommendation has led to an increase in the amount of firms in Finland that have both genders represented on board level, from 50 to 80 per cent.

Board members are, however, selected according to knowledge, competence and experience – not by gender. Board members are expected to have deep knowledge in their field of business and experience from different operative roles, usually gained through leadership and management roles in that specific organization. Thus, the more women represented in an industry – the more women in leadership roles. Equality improves work welfare and advances productivity. ( 20.10.2013).

As stated by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka on October 18th 2013 in New York, women´s leadership is central to peacebuilding. ( 20.10.2013).

UN Women is the leading organization promoting gender equality, women´s rights and women´s empowerment. Its Sustainable Development Goals addresses following three target areas of gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment:

–          Freedom from violence against women and girls

–          Gender equality in the distribution of capabilities – knowledge, good health, sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights of women and adolescent girls; and access to resources and opportunities, including land, decent work and equal pay to build women’s economic and social security.

–          Gender equality in decision-making power in public and private institutions, in national parliaments and local councils, the media and civil society, in the management and governance of firms, and in families and communities. ( 20.10.2013.)

Violence, both physical and psychological, is the most comprehensive abuse of human rights, taking place in all countries globally. One third of all women worldwide have experienced either physical or psychological (or both) violence at some point in their lives.

“Violence against women and girls tend to increase at times of crisis and instability, notably during and after periods of upheaval and displacement associated with armed conflict and natural disasters, but also when people are dealing with uncertainty. There can be increased domestic violence when men are unemployed, even if (sometimes especially if) women are bringing in income. Insecurity that results from high levels of organized crime in societies may also be associated with increased levels of violence against women or higher rates of femicide. In some situations of armed conflict, violence against women is widespread and systematic – for instance, where forms of sexual violence such as rape, forced prostitution, or sex trafficking are used by armed groups as a tactic of warfare to terrorize or displace civilians or to benefit parties to the conflict”. ( 20.10.2013).

More about these important issues in UN Women´s publication “A transformative stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment: Imperatives and key components” ( 20.10.2013).

What are your thoughts about female leadership and gender equality?

How are these issues dealt with in your country?