Connecting Las Americas – Reporting on Good From a Motorcycle
By Alison Klein | May 20, 2015
Max Wohlgemuth Kitslaar can easily tell you about what he has done and what he’s doing but it’s harder for him to describe exactly what he does.
In a Dutch accent he’ll recount things he’s done – things like earning a law degree and a masters in Latin American studies, helping to take his friend’s company Platform161 multinational, and starting an ecological cava importing business that donates ten percent of its profits to sustainable agriculture.
He’ll also share the story of what he’s currently doing: riding an oldtimer Guzzi from Santiago, Chile, to New York City as part of his project Connecting Las Americas. What Max “does” might be unclear, but Connecting Las Americas is intriguing enough to keep us all watching until he figures it out.
While vacationing in Mallorca, Max had a job offer fall through the same day he finished the book Man in het Zadel by Dutch journalist Paul van Hooff. Inspired by van Hooff’s travels by motorcycle and eager for his next adventure, Max decided to ride his own motorcycle from Chile to New York and capture stories of people and businesses doing good along the way.
Through starting conversations on prior trips, Max knew that “There are so many stories, but they don’t become available to others until they have a stage.”
So to “give these crazy, inspirational stories a stage” and “show the world that anyone can make change,” Max strapped on his boots and helmet and hit the road this past February. He’s learned a lot on the way.
Sign Up for Pegable Post to get ideas, advice and resources on activating your Purpose sent right to your inbox.
I asked Max if he’s noticed any commonalities among the do-gooders he meets. He didn’t hesitate to answer: “Fire. I see fire in their eyes. When they talk, they’re into it. They want to be doing what they’re doing and they’re committed to change.”
As an example he describes the founders of Laboratoria, a year-old social enterprise that teaches software development skills to teenage girls living in the slums of Lima, Peru. “The founders would work 25 hours a day if they could. They’re exhausted, but when they talk about their work all you see is fire and passion and energy.”
Laboratoria is just one of many businesses that Max has featured on his blog. It excited him that “They’re not a foundation – they’re a business! But they’re still breaking through paradigms and revolutionizing the industry.”
Max says that the changemakers he encounters are also courageous, citing a project started by two sisters who teach primary school in Argentina. There, recycling isn’t commonplace but drinking soda is, and people often throw empty bottles on the street. To change this behavior, the sisters asked their students to bring in their plastic bottles and then used them to build a playhouse.
Max emphasizes that that these sisters weren’t remarkable – they just had an idea and the courage to make a reality. “They thought ‘we want to teach these young kids to give things a second life. And we want to make them aware of all the soda they’re drinking.’ And they did it!”
In Holland and elsewhere, Max sees people that “don’t make choices – they just let life go by and then later they say ‘Shit, I wanted to do all of these things.’” He encourages people everywhere to actually act – to “take their ideas – the kind of ideas that we all have – and just do it. It’s like Nike. Just freaking DO IT.”
He insists that actually acting isn’t hard – “I’m just a normal guy and I thought ‘Why don’t I ride 10,000 miles from Chile to NY?’ and now I’m doing it. Other people can do things too. Even the smallest thing can have a huge impact. Small is a relative thing; it only exists in your own mind. What is small to you can be huge to somebody else.”
Max hopes to counter negativity in the media by showing that there are good people working to address the world’s problems. He doesn’t think that his work will stop wars but does believe that “if people read one little story I write and are inspired to change one thing it’s worth it.”
To illustrate what he means, Max tells me about his encounter with a regular guy in the process of making big changes.
I arrived very late one night at a hotel in the Chilean desert. It had been a long day and I was tired and grumpy so I was agitated when I found out the hotel’s internet was down, as I really needed to work. Eventually the hotel’s owner came in and he listened to my problem and he invited me to use this secret internet connection he had in his office. So I sat right there with him.
We got along so well that he eventually took me up to his roof to show me a set of solar panels he’d installed to harvest the sun’s energy and heat all of the water for the hotel. The man spent the first part of his life working as an engineer on coal mining operations, later decided that he wanted to buy solar panels, then bought them and set them up himself. Within the next year, he wants to add windmills so that the entire property can run off of clean energy.
Max’s stories show his readers that it isn’t just big companies making PR moves or crunchy hippie folks that are trying to live sustainably. Rather, there are people and businesses of all kinds all over the world doing different things to make an impact.
The Journey Continues
I asked Max why he plans to stop in New York. After all, the social business revolution is taking place all over the world. He gave an easy laugh and conceded that there are also a number of people and businesses making a difference in Europe. I can’t help but wonder if a similar tour of his home continent is in the future.
Of course it’s very hard to say for certain, but after talking to Max, I think he’s building an exciting career inspiring others to act on their hunches, ditch their hesitations and DO THINGS to make the world a little bit better. To be honest, he’s great at his job.
Max was inspired by Paul van Hooff. Who has inspired you to go big, act on your ambitions and forge your own path? Tell me about your inspiration in the comments below.