Response provided by Dr. Asha de Vos
Dr. Asha de Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist, educator and founder of The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project. She is the first Sri Lankan to obtain a PhD in a field related to marine mammal research and established the first long-term study on blue whales in the Northern Indian Ocean. Her publications on Sri Lankan blue whales, have led to this population being designated as a species in urgent need of conservation research and action by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Her pioneering work has been showcased internationally by Channel 7 Australia (2010), the BBC (2010), the New York Times (2012), CNN (2012), WIRED UK (2014), the New Scientist (2014), TED (2015), Grist (2015) and National Geographic where she serves as a guest blogger. Amongst her many accolades Asha is most notably a TED Senior Fellow and A Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.
Ask An Entrepreneur: As a marine biologist, why did you get into entrepreneurship and what role do you see entrepreneurism playing in your industry?
Having an entrepreneurial mindset means I don’t hesitate to think outside the confines of my academic space in search of a new ways to change the status quo for our planet. Last year WWF shared sad news that humans had reduced population sizes of all the planet’s better-known species by half in less than two human generations. Hearing this concerned me and made me realize that what we are currently doing to combat this problem simply isn’t working. Our methods to protect and conserve nature are broken and we need something different and new– FAST.
As a marine biologist, my focus is very simply to save the oceans. I realized though that while the victory of saving (at least momentarily) a population of the largest animal to ever roam the planet from it’s biggest threat (getting killed by ships) would indeed be a sweet one, it wouldn’t do enough for the system as a whole. We need to think bigger and broader, and that’s exactly why I am transitioning out of the ivory tower of academia into my own organization that believes that ‘oceans for all, forever’ truly is the only way forward.
For years I have pioneered research on a unique population of blue whales in the Northern Indian Ocean. Once I cleared a path for this kind of research in a part of the world where it didn’t exist many other teams started to work on the same conservation issues I was concerned with.
It fascinates me that there is this assumption that entrepreneurs are only people who work in business and industry. My job is as far from that as you can imagine.
It fascinates me that there is this assumption that entrepreneurs are only people who work in business and industry. My job is as far from that as you can imagine. I spend a lot of time in, on or around the ocean, working on boats, amongst blue whales and other incredible creatures. But beyond that I work with media to talk about the oceans and how we can look after them, I experiment with different tools that can connect people with the oceans and I also take people on the ocean so they can be inspired and understand my passion and the need for conservation.
Being bold, despite where I came from and the challenges I faced has allowed me to be a voice that represents a set of views that never really existed before. This is what I love about being entrepreneurial – it gives me the freedom to explore the space beyond me and do something useful for the planet. It gives me the freedom to try things out and make mistakes. It gives me the freedom to dream big, take more risks and shape our future.
Given my experience ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ and knowing the benefits of perusing the space beyond, I encourage everyone to adopt a similar mindset. There will always be new challenges but isn’t that what life is about? An exploration of the unknown? The pushing of boundaries? As Mark Twain said, ‘Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect’. At this point, you have a choice, but to change the world, you have to CHOOSE to be different.
Entrepreneurs are people who turn the seemingly impossible into the possible.
Next time you face a challenge, think about what your colleagues would do in that situation. Now discard those options and think about how you can overcome that challenge in a new and innovative way if you had unlimited resources. You will be amazed at what you come up with once you remove the barriers and constraints to free flowing thought. Remember, entrepreneurs are people who turn the seemingly impossible into the possible. I would argue that within all of us lies an entrepreneur just waiting for the opportunity to break free. My advice, give in.