NESsTing Upon the Thames

Day Three: Richmond Bridge to Hampton Court Palace 

Kew Gardens provides inspirational insight into the plant life of our green planet.  As we cycled along Kew’s perimeter yesterday, I told Adrian about Inka Moss.  Far from the bustle of London in the Andean Highlands, local farmers struggle to generate reliable income.  

Inka Moss is the only Peruvian company that collects and processes, in a sustainable way, sphagnum moss – a natural product that is highly demanded by international orchid growers. The company trains these small farmers to collect the moss and become suppliers in its value chain.  One of the features I like so much about Inka Moss is that it is making use of age-old wisdom but bringing this knowledge right up to date in a sustainable way, preserving the environment whilst creating viable livelihoods. 

The diversity of trees and flowers along the Thames Path has been one of the uplifting features of our journey so far.  We weren’t ready to experience such an idyllic environment within the M25.  Indeed we spent our tranquil Day Three entirely still within Greater London.  We slowed down today, in response to the aches caused by yesterday’s bike ride and our investment in a gentler pace paid harmonious and rejuvenating dividends. 

Day Two: London Bridge to Richmond Bridge

Day two of our expedition was gloriously sunny.  We started off from London Bridge by accessing the shoreline of the Thames at low tide.  We picked our way along the water’s edge accompanied by seagulls, finding oyster shells and shards of Victorian clay pipes along the way.  A stroll on a beach in central London was a novel and surprisingly restful experience.  I recommend it for anyone who’s not tried it yet – just make sure it’s low tide.

As we climbed the stairs back onto the embankment at the South Bank, Adrian, again ever the management consultant, observed that most cyclists overtaking us were in too low a gear.  Was this a metaphor for social enterprise?  It struck me that many of us go through life and engage in our business ventures in too low a gear. 

We need advice from experienced mentors and management mechanics to help us to step up to that performance-enhancing higher gear. 

This mentoring and business acumen is what NESsT has provided to 100s of enterprises in Eastern Europe and South America. 

The one that sprang to mind is Pedala in Brazil, a bicycle-based urban delivery social enterprise that trains, hires and professionalises at-risk youth.  Learn more about how NESsT has helped Pedala.

Bruno Fujii for NESsT

Bruno Fujii for NESsT

After a coffee in Vauxhall, we chanced upon a row of Santander bikes.  (Santander – if you’re reading, this is free advertising and we have so much in common, please send a donation to NESsT).  Good entrepreneurs must be able to recognize and grasp an opportunity.  So we elected the highest gear available and pedaled through Battersea, past the beautiful wetlands area of Barnes, beyond Kew Gardens and triumphantly into Richmond.    

Day One: Thames Barrier to London Bridge

We had an auspicious, sunny start to our expedition.  I bounced with optimism and excitement as we neared the Thames.  The first glimpse of the colossal barriers triggered the first feeling of apprehension.  Close up, the barriers are an imposing, even menacing yet implausible regiment of aquatic Dr. Who props.  In fact, the barrier is a valuable risk mitigant for London, curbing the river’s excesses without becoming an impediment. 

Risk became our conversational theme for the day.

Given the seafaring connections of this reach of the Thames, I told Adrian, ever the management consultant even in hiking boots, about NESsT’s support for Sustainable Fishery Trade in Peru.  Fishing is a risky business, with hazards to life, limb and the long-term marine ecosystem. 

Find out how NESsT has been supporting Sustainable Fishery Trade to reduce risk without losing its entrepreneurial edge. 

Our stroll evoked images of risk-taking entrepreneurs throughout the maritime history of east London.  Sailors have left the docksides though which we walked to brave the oceans since ship-building began. 

Sometimes those voyages might have seemed reckless but coupled with skill, experience and the right financial backing, they became superb examples of entrepreneurial spirit.  

Walking along the riverbank gave us plenty to look at both in the foreground and on the horizon and again we were struck with this as a metaphor for any successful social enterprise, always bearing in mind its near term and longer term goals.  We walked from low tide to high tide stopping for a modest number of drinks at maritime pubs along the way – too much beer in the sunshine could be risky, but too little seemed an even worse way to go. 

We headed home satisfied with 17 kilometres completed – not a bad start.

Want to contribute to our journey?


Introductory Post

This journey combines a number of my interests: London and its history, entrepreneurial businesses, ambling along a riverbank, and thoughts about how to cope when things go wrong.  

In early April, I was appointed to the UK Board of NESsT, a charity I’ve followed and supported for the last decade. NESsT provides finance and business expertise to fledgling social enterprises in emerging economies. It helps people into dignified employment.

I admire the way NESsT engages and mentors those with drive and vision in creating jobs and improving lives.

In terms of charitable giving, alongside disaster and crisis relief, I believe in the longer term goal of providing the means for people in need to take charge of their own futures and to be treated with dignity and respect as partners.

Have a look at the rest of NESsT’s website.

I enjoy a relaxed walk and a companionable en route chat. The Thames Path offers a great balance of industrial and rural landscapes with a continuous theme of the power and value of riverside existence. I’m looking forward to seeing London’s varied life from the water’s edge.

The plan is to take our time over days off to navigate the length of the Thames from the barrier to the source before the clocks go back. We won’t average much more than ten miles a day unless Adrian persuades me to cycle.

I’ll post a blog entry per section. As the path is 184 miles, I’m hoping friends and family might donate £18.40 each to encourage us on our merry way.

In recognition of research published this week indicating that the most successful corporate adventurers are those with least optimism, the goals are modest. Walking the length of a river will be wet, cold and dirty at times. Undoubtedly there will be sore feet, rainy days, diversions, rail replacement bus services that meander more than the Thames. Mr. Rhodes will be my encourager. We are complementary and contradictory. In the moments when I feel joyously omnipotent, his grim realism restores perspective. He will offer a hand to cajole me through the last bitter three miles each day. He won’t let me give up.

These thoughts of resilience bring me neatly back to thinking of the common threads uniting NESsT and the Thames - lifelines to the entrepreneurial.

Wish us luck in our enterprise!