“The Project and the Challenge” – Sherry Knowles

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“The Project and the Challenge”


Many people have asked me over the past year why I created The Kectil Program.  And why I am spending so much time and effort on it? Why such a large project? Why should we spend family money on this? Why am I spending weekends answering emails from countries I have never visited to speak with youth I have never met? And on and on.

I answer that it is “The Project and the Challenge.”

The Project

We think life is long but it is very short. And we have no idea what day it will be over. Physicists now tell us that the universe was created about 13.5 billion years ago and that we are all made of stardust (I like that idea!). It is also estimated that our universe has about 5 billion years left before it starts contracting. If we live 100 years out of that 18.5 billion years, we are lucky.

Add to that the odds that any of us will be born at all. Imagine how many individual eggs and sperm existed on the day we were conceived—what are the odds that the exact two would come together to form each of us? And the ratio of pairs that did not result in a life greatly dwarfs those few that did.  Every person who walks on this earth is a winner who has already won the lottery. We were given the extraordinary gift of the right to exist for a short time. We should wake up every morning with appreciation, regardless of our circumstances.

I am reminded of one of my favorite childhood books, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. If you haven’t read it and don’t mind reading a child’s book, I recommend it. It is the story of Alice Rumphius, a woman who wanted to go to faraway places and then live by the sea.  As a young woman, she traveled to many spots with great adventure. She then settled into a seaside town and realized there is one thing left to do: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” After a hard winter, Alice noticed that the gorgeous purple, blue and rose lupine flowers survive the cold weather. She immediately knew what to do. She ordered lupine seeds and dropped them all over her town. The lupines prospered, turning her community into a magical sight enjoyed by all.

The message is clear-we each need to search for that one thing we can do—“The Project”—that will make the world a more beautiful place than if you had not been the one of the infinitesimally few to win the lottery and experience life. I am strongly of the conviction that each person who has been given the miracle of life against all odds should at some point in his/her life select and carry out a Project that is of a scale equal to what has been given to that person in assets and ability during life. It should be something that is given with nothing expected in return and it should be something that makes the world a little bit better than when you got here. It is a gift.

I spent many years thinking about what my ”Project” should be. After my mother died in July 2015, it immediately came to me, as it did to Miss Rumphius, what I should do. I had also traveled the world and met many people. I am unusually fortunate to work with many great minds. I decided to create a family foundation to network youth in developing countries as a communications and growth platform for ethical leadership, career building and global understanding. The Kectil Program is my “Project”. It is my gift and it is my hope that this unique forum for talented youth grows as well as lupines spread across the fields.

The Challenge

What about “The Challenge”? The challenge is to think of something that is impossible, and then achieve it. The Kectil Program is also an example of “The  Challenge”.

When this Program was imagined, I had no idea how to accomplish it. Most would say it isn’t possible for a small group of people to put together a program like this, much less in one year. I didn’t know what the framework should look like. I had to manage the creation of a website and then an application portal, having no experience in running a non-profit foundation, much less global recruitment. I had to publicize it so talented youth would come to the site and participate. I had to recruit faculty, mentors and an unparalleled Advisory Board. And I had to accomplish all of this while working full time as a lawyer at a firm I founded, while meeting all of the clients’ expectations and deadlines.

Kectil could not have been accomplished without leaning heavily on others with great talent and passion, who stepped up to help spread the word and provide advice and direction. The Kectil Directors, my children Brooke Shafer and Chris Zalesky, gave essential help and support with infrastructure and youth perspective. The Advisory Board, all volunteers, spent hours of their valuable time with suggestions, introductions, and contributions of content.

My challenge to you is likewise to aim higher than you think you are able to go, and then figure out a way to get there and surpass it. You have the ability, talent and passion to do this. We hope this Program will be a small contribution to your journey to accomplish the impossible.

With kind regards
Sherry Knowles

Comments 140

    1. Hello @roselineadewuyi. I hope you are doing well. It is nice to read your comment and know that Sherry’s story was inspiring people, even many years ago. I hope we will continue growing and contributing to the change within our communities.
      Nice to have you here, and I am looking forward to interacting with you and learning from you and your experiences with Kectil.

  1. I am going out looking for Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney right now!! her story sounds as inspiring as yours. Thank you so much for creating this platform, the valuable time plus effort you and your team put in to make this happen. It’s highly appreciated!

  2. Taking the leap even when we’re unsure of the outcome is so important, especially when it’s a cause that we’re passionate about.
    The Youth Organization that I founded, Shine Your Light Initiative, was that leap for me and months later I haven’t regretted it.

    1. Hello@Abeena Gomes. I hope you are doing well.
      Thank you for sharing with us a little bit about your organization. It is another story of what we can achieve when we care of any cause. Let’s just continue working hard towards the well being of our communities. I believe that we can do like Sherry and spread the spirit of her leadership everywhere we are.

  3. This is so inspiring. Much hasn’t been happening in Lesotho, because many of us, have always thought we needed lots of money to get started. From this story, it’s clear, that all we need is an idea of what we can bring in healing the world. This platform is a smart investment.

    1. Hello @Teboho Polanka. I hope you are doing well and have well started the program.
      You are right when you said we don’t so much much before starting something from the level of grassroots. Let us share this spirit of motivation with other young people in the World.
      A cause and a commitment are already too much to start bringing change in our communities.
      Let’s then take full advantage of the Kectil program to unleash our potential.

  4. Truly inspiring. Sometimes we dwell on the impossibilities and see only the negativities, when actually there is so much we can achieve by just being ourselves. Now, I’m reminded of the analogy that “a single candle can light up a room”. If I can as much as light a candle, then it would surely illuminate the way for others to follow.

  5. There was a time in my life when I doubted everything around me. I used to try to find out the bad intent of every good action. I kept that close mind and couldn’t enjoy any positive things. One day, I came across the news about this program. At first, I didn’t believe there was such amazing generosity and kindness of Ms. Knowles with a big ambition to nurture the youth and change the world. I kept asking why she had to sacrifice a lot for something unsure. I made a thorough research about her and the program, I applied for it and succeeded. Today I believe. I change. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to see the world with an open mind. Now I feel so much more appreciated and inspired by this blog. I hope to make more friends in the next journey with Kectil 2020.

    1. Hello @Thandiwe Mokotso. I hope you are doing well and have well started the program.
      Your message is such a powerful declaration. I should have something like that to declare on my life every morning I wake. It will undoubtedly give me the courage and the motivation to do more and go extra miles.
      Thank you for sharing with us and see you around.

  6. Reading this reminds me of story I was once told by my late father regarding his quest to better our village. From his long story that I wouldn’t mind to share some day, one thing that I learnt is that whenever I engage myself for any noble course, I shouldn’t do it with the ‘me’ in mind but the entire human race, in other words, there is the beauty of living not only for ourselves but for others and that the greatest satisfaction is achieved my making others satisfied.
    Thanks for investing your time and resources in this program.

    1. Hello @Cosmas Obiora Ndubuisi. I hope you are doing well. Words are important. Unfortunately, they don’t have the same impact as practical actions. Daily tiny actions should drive our commitment to change the world. That is how change comes.
      I hope we will be more action-driven than words-driven.
      See you around in the program.

  7. I strongly believe this program will contribute immensely to every youth on this program; especially those of us from Africa with the strong will to birth the greatness and significant contributions needed to make the world a better place.

  8. Inspiring and motivational.
    This simply means that the change starts with each individual. And all through the journey, there would be rough patches, it’s left to you to decide if you wanna pull through or drop it in the long run.
    It’s such a wonderful opportunity to be amongst this great team and thank you, Ms Knowles, for believing in us.

  9. I like how you kept it “personal” but “international”. I understand your story and challenge as much as I did during the past few years of doing social work. I appreciated to be a part of this strong growing community and having a chance to directly connect and share stories with people is important to me. Thank you for your network, mentor in the upcoming program.

  10. This reminds me of an article on The New York Times by David Brooks, “The Moral Bucket List”. Where he states, “There are two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” The “Project and the Challenge” for me definitely bring out and speak to to our eulogy virtues. These are the qualities that make us truly unique, as they give the world a glimpse of the light that is in all of us, that speaks to the universal brotherhood that is humanity that bridges oceans and dissolves borders.

    1. Hello @Raymond Chivere. I hope you are doing well.
      As you said, each of us is unique as much as we define “a SMART project” and “a SMART challenge” to deal with.
      I believe that by the end of this program, we will have a view of what our chosen projet and challenge look like. If we want to be real changemakers, it should start there.
      I hope we can do it. And this platform is a good place to be.

  11. Changing is not just changing the things outside of us. First of all we need the right view that transcends all notions including of being and non-being, creator and creature, mind and spirit. That kind of insight is crucial for transformation and healing.

    1. Change comes throughout a long process and is driven by many factors, as you’ve mentioned. Understanding what goes with change is the starting point of the change we want.
      We all have the power to change something in our communities. Even if we can not change it at a bigger scale, we can start with tiny actions.
      Thank you for sharing those concepts with us. It was insightful.
      Take care and see you soon in the program.

    1. Hello @Oluwaseyi Adebayo. That is a compelling reminder about the quote of this week.
      Great achievements come when we desire crazy, challenging, big things, and don’t know how to figure out them. Let’s put the bar high.
      Undoubtedly, the way to reach there will come instinctively.
      Thank you for reminding us of this powerful quote of Albert Einstein.
      Take care and see you later in the program.

  12. Being a Kectil colleague this time in my life is an adventure that would otherwise be considered “impossible ” judging from the great deal of pressure I’m currently under. But, reading your story is just an affirmation that we should all live for the challenge and the little things as the transform to the great deals. Thank you for stepping up to your own “project ” , I’m right on my way to mine.

    1. Hello @Prudence. I hope you are doing well.
      You know, when we are going through a lot of pressure, or when things are not ok, it is in those times we need to be courageous and step up as a changemaker. So that other people won’t be in the same situations as us. I know it is difficult, but it is not also impossible to come from anywhere and achieve great things. You too, you can do that. I can also do that, we as Kectil Generation can also do that. And that is the call to action from Ms. Sherry to us. I hope she will be proud of us in the coming years.

      Take care, stay strong, and see you around during the program.

  13. Hello Sherry. Your life is the true definition of what you called a gift or miracle. I think you are already contributing so much to make the world a better place. It is inspiring reading your story and knowing that we can also do like you and bring change within our communities. I can not ask for more than being part of the gift you are for humanity.
    Once again, thank you for the great work you are doing, and I wish you so many years of life on the earth so that you can see and smell the impact of what you have done.

  14. ‘Every person who walks on this earth is a winner who has already won the lottery.’, This is really deep and truly inspiring. There is greatness in all, but we must overcome the fear of trying. Its encouraging to hear about the birth of an idea and to see the success.

    1. Waooo. Congratulations to you @Ekaphong Bouapha for being part of this program. It is good to hear from you. I think if I could have the same opportunity as you when I was very young, the level of my leadership will be higher than where I am now. I think you have a fantastic opportunity to be here on this platform, network with other young leaders around the world. You are fortunate for that.
      Once again, congratulations to you and have an incredible journey as a Kectil colleague. I wish you all the best. And I hope we will learn from each other.

    1. Definitively @Bunga Anggina Najah. Ms. Sherry is the king of light we need in this world. And as we are now Kectil colleagues, we can create a generation of billion of Ms. Sherry, and bring the change into the world. Yes, it is possible if only we give back to our communities what Kectil will give to us.
      We need to create this circle of giving back that will never be cut.
      We can also do that. Let’s keep our motivation higher.

  15. Thank you Ma’am. As a Kectil colleague 2019, we are always reminded there is much we can do to make the world a better place. We might not have the power to do big things like Ms. Sherry Knowles has done but we can do small small things which can have a great multiplier effect. The goal is to start. Every journey begins with one step and when you look back, you will be amazed at how many miles you have taken. Start something today dear friends and colleagues.
    Wish everyone a lovely 2020 with Kectil in mind and in action.

    1. Hello @Oluwatosin Doyinsola Awe. I hope you are doing well.
      Thank you so much for your motivational message. It was insightful et inspiring reading your message.
      As you said, we should start with even small actions. Yes, of course, change naturally comes with small actions, tiny habits.
      Let’s do it.


  16. This has got me to a reflection point. I have always known that every body in this world has a unique book in him to give to the world. This is analogous to the “Project and Challenge”. If the “Starter” to the program can be like this, how much more the icing?

  17. Inspiring.. I like the way you had confidence over your idea.. sometimes no one can explain your idea better than yourself so it’s good to stay away from negative people just concentrate on your goal and you will achieve as you did.

    1. Hello @Abdirashid Abdi Jama. I hope you are doing well and have well started the program.
      I think it is an excellent opportunity for us to be in this program. And we can express our gratitude to Ms. Sherry and the Kectil Team for creating such a fantastic platform.
      I can’t wait to interact with you and learn from you as well.
      Nice to have you here and see you around in the program.

  18. Hello! Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity & creating this project?!

    I adore your quotes “Every person who walks on this earth is a winner who has already won the lottery” and “You must do something to make the world more beautiful”. Nowadays, this is a virtue. Through grace and love of people, you have managed to bring people’s smile every time. The attitude and finesse you show bring a charm to the world we live in.

    It is said that there are many stones on Earth, but few diamonds. You are a true role model for humanity. I am glad that I have the pleasure and luck to meet an angel sent by God. People like you are rarely born.

    And I also love another quote from you “I had to manage the creation of a website and then an application portal, having no experience”. This reminded me about my first steps in creating my travel articles. I had 0 experience in creating websites, but I was very passionate in helping others to travel easier.

    You are a true leader and we are so lucky to meet you through this project! Thank you again!

    Andra??(from Romania)

    1. Hello @Andra Diana Popescu. I hope you are doing well and have well started the program.
      I enjoyed reading your comment. I’ve learned so much from it. You tried to put out some values we should have as leaders. And there is one of those values I think should be at the core of our leadership: the value of humanity. It reminds me of the “Ubuntu” value from Mandela: I am because you are. Let’s use those values and build ethical leadership in the world.
      Nice to have you here and see you around in the program.

  19. Really inspiring story and this shows you greatness , what I learn from your story dream with out goal is just dream that mean hard-work can change from impossible to possible , wish you healthy life with peace full.

  20. Reading it and knowing how much efforts it took you gave a greater meaning to the program and guess motivated us more to try and use the most out of it, for some might not get it but working as a lawyer is not an 9 to 17:00 job so having such a full time responsibility and running a firm and coming out from a family funeral with such positive attentions is inspirational
    Thanks Ms Sherry and whom ever supported you

  21. Thank you Sherry for all the effort to bring the lives of so many youths in the whole world to a reality. I do appreciate your kindness. To all the youths, let us learn from the above information, life is too short and we must use our time to make it better.


    Peter Victor Obare

  22. Understanding and being open to accept the fact that we all are created to support and learn from each other, thank you so much Sherry for taking up this challenge and wholeheartedly growing this project even with your busy schedule in view.

    yours in the love and cause for humanity

    Warm regards


  23. This is a very good Lesson for not only young people but every individual who believes in putting up wonderful initiatives to support humanity. I find many similar scenarios in my life as a young man. All I can say is that we are all destined for greatness but the journey is a complex puzzle and how fast you get there is determined by how prepared are you to face challenges.

  24. This is a very good life lesson for any individual who believes in putting up some thing intended to support humanity. I find many similar scenarios in my life as a young man and all I can say is that we are all destined for greatness but the journey is so complex that how fast you reach is determined by how prepared you are to counter challenges.

  25. Life is indeed short and I strongly agree that we should appreciate it everyday and find new ways of changing lives of people in our countries ,communities and families because we are because the are ,we should understand that making a difference actually starts within us , we can shape the world and change lives. If something or someone sleeps hungry ,we are called to serve we should ask our selves what can I do to change that, we really are part of solution and driving change in all directions and breathing life to all our communities and the world in general. We are the servant leaders.

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