When I reflect on all that occurred in 2023, it’s hard to believe such seismic changes were bound by a single year: some of the century’s deadliest earthquakes (and other catastrophic natural disasters), historic bank collapses, dramatic changes in political leadership, over 650 mass shootings in the United States, and the onset or continuation of excruciating wars around the world. All while the advances in artificial intelligence upended the way we think about most things—including the very foundations of knowledge and learning.
All of this is profoundly disorienting. There’s so much. Amidst the overwhelm of daily life and all of the above, we might ask: how do I—how does any one person—help? Where would I even start? Where are the leaders who can guide us through?
In the summer of 2023, everyone at NationBuilder picked someone to interview whom they considered to be a leader. We were curious how these people were doing what they were doing, what was most essential to them, what they most needed help with. Their answers were incredibly insightful, but the most surprising thing—especially given the set up— were their answers to the question: do you think of yourself as a leader?
Most said no.
Each of these people had seen a problem or a need or an opportunity to help. They were doing something that, without question, was of service to their respective communities. They were showing up—not just once, but every day—to do the work in front of them because it mattered. Whether they considered themselves to be a leader or not, they were, unequivocally, leading.
Of the powerful stories in this Year in Review, one stands out to me as emblematic of this idea. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, two friends in London wanted to do something to help. Their plan was to bring humanitarian supplies to the Polish border, but were quickly confronted with a very specific, urgent need from those on the ground: vehicles. So, in March 2022, they bought a pick-up truck and drove it to Ukraine.
The project quickly snowballed. They asked friends and colleagues to help raise funds and, by May 2022, were delivering 5-6 trucks per week. To date, Liberty Trucks Ukraine has delivered over 350 trucks that are used for casualty evacuation, front-line supply, and general mobility. What started as two friends has become a community of volunteers and a vital part of the humanitarian effort in Ukraine.
Their story reminds me that there is nothing mysterious about leadership. It’s about the desire to help—and then just starting where you are. Finding a place to stand. Calling a friend and inviting them to join you. Calling another. It’s about keeping going, even when it's really hard to. Knowing that, even when it doesn’t seem like it, your efforts matter. Because leadership, whether you consider yourself to be a leader or not, matters.
So where are the leaders who will get us through? They are all around us. Doing the work every day. Just like your friends. Just like your colleagues.
Just like you.