Dragons, Apes and Lost Connections

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Rick Mower (OD 1981) reflects on the power of connection, both to each other and the world around us. He speaks about the ethos behind RAW, his social business, and considers the part his Dragon Education played in where he is today.

“I’m still very much a Dragon at heart and much of what I do today (and particularly my ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude) is still inspired from my days there.”

Dragons, Apes and Lost Connections
Rick Mower (OD 1981)
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Humans. We’re just a bunch of apes. Sure, we have created cars and computers, weapons of mass destruction, health care, toxic social media, the cult of self and banal D-list TV shows to numb us, but at the end of the day, we’re apes.

Apparently, we are amongst the ‘Great’ Apes, but that’s up for dispute. Sometimes, I can’t help but feel our cousins, the orangutans, gorillas and chimps might have got their approach to life more ‘right’ than we have. Who is to say that, at some point long ago, our ape cousins didn’t get together for a ‘networking event’ to discuss this vital topic: “Innovation, Advancement and Technology – Do we want it?”

At this tree-shrouded get-together, after an hour of chatting, some mutual back-scratching and a plate of over-priced banana canapes, they came to a decision.

The answer was “No, thanks.”

Sure, some argued for the benefits, the potential of medicines, better housing and education, and so on. Others were more sceptical – “Where does it stop? What will be the effect on our communities? Won’t we start to argue more?”

Shortly thereafter, they lost interest, deciding (1) ‘networking events’ were not their thing and should be banned immediately and (2) to keep quiet about their decision to the hominoids (who were widely regarded as being a little too clever for their own good).

So, for millennia, the other Great Apes have been plodding along, enjoying their days as they came and having the odd scuffle with other apes who got a bit ‘territorial’. Above all, they kept bonded together in their bands and troops, they looked after each other, and everyone had a place and a purpose.

The hominoids got wind of this and likewise, for a long time, organised themselves in tribes. It worked pretty well until they also got a bit territorial and started conjuring up self-serving justifications, imagined over 3,000 gods, and delivered a whole host of other ‘reasons’ for setting about destroying each other and – in the process – the entire planet.

I digress, but my point is this. In all that ‘progress’, many have lost something vital. Something that is in our DNA and a deep, deep need that all mammals have. We’ve lost the power of connection.

Reflecting as an OD, I know that I am very fortunate. More than just ‘education’, the Dragon taught me about the power of connection, the immeasurable value of belonging, the self-worth that comes from contributing to the wider group, and the emotional freedom of just ‘giving it your best’. It gave me a life-long sense of identity, curiosity and a reference point to launch from. (It also taught me that sodium + water = fun and that you really shouldn’t ‘borrow’ magnesium from Bev’s lab … but that really is another story).

The value of connection is why, when we set up our social enterprise, RAW, in Oxford, we didn’t ‘just’ want to do anything. We didn’t ‘just’ want to be a brilliant manufacturer of furniture, we didn’t ‘just’ want to run Oxfordshire’s most carbon-efficient recycling operation, we didn’t ‘just’ want to deliver the best grounds maintenance service and we didn’t ‘just’ want to run a very cool retail business. We wanted to create a tribe that helps change lives from the inside out.

Sure, 75% of RAW’s exceptional workforce have fought and won battles against life challenges such as addiction, crime and mental health issues. And yes, last year, we reduced local carbon emissions by 53,000 Kgs and, created over 12,000 hours of social impact, and recycled 740 tonnes of waste wood. We work with national brands, big corporates, the hospitality industry, global visitor attractions and private customers too.

Above all; it’s the sense of tribe that is the most valuable thing we create. RAW, gives people back a connection to be proud of, somewhere to find their place and where their endeavour makes a difference. A place where common goals, integrity, loyalty, kindness and resilience are far more highly valued than qualifications.

So, to the fire-starters who set me on my social enterprise journey – Inky, Guv, Parnie, Rabbits, Splash, Pully, and so many others – your spirit lives on at RAW. #ArduusAdSolem

Now, where’s my banana …