In “Larger than Yourself” (New World Library, 2021), Thibault Manekin writes about his professional journey, from helping start international nonprofit Peace Players—using sports to unite war-torn countries—to his return to Baltimore in 2006.
The Mount Washington native is one of the visionaries behind social real estate venture Seawall, which launched dozens of projects including the revitalization of Remington Avenue and the Center for Educational Excellence, which provides housing for teachers and space for education-based nonprofits.
“Our idea at Seawall has always been around how can we use buildings to empower communities, unite cities and help to launch powerful ideas?” he says.
Manekin discusses his book and what he hopes readers will gain from it for Baltimore Style ahead of its release on Tuesday, Nov. 23.
What inspired you to write this book, and why now?
I always felt that I had a book within me. I had the opportunity to give speeches all over the world. And in those speeches, I would talk about this really inclusive way that I’ve thought about bringing ideas to life. People would pull me aside after the speeches and ask me to elaborate, as if it was almost a different language that I was speaking.
I think the timing of the book is incredibly relevant today. We’re in a point of time where our world is lost and struggling to figure out its identity, and humanity is more lost than it’s ever been. I think the lessons and the principles that readers are going to get out of the book are so important—the importance of reimagining industries, taking the things the world has known one way and completely shaking them and flipping them upside down where we’re really leading with our purpose over our profit. We’re witnessing the great resignation today. In large part, people want to feel inspired at every moment of their life. They want to feel like they’re contributing to something powerful and not going through the motions—not just stuck in a status quo way of being. So the book does that, right? The book pushes people out of their comfort zones and gives them the tools that they need to think (about) their ideas and opportunities in a different and more inclusive way.
The book follows your journey around the world. What are some experiences you chose to highlight?
I talk a lot about my four or five years in South Africa growing the Peace Players program. For me, that was one of the largest steps out of my comfort zone that I had ever experienced, and it shook me to my core but in a powerful way that taught me some lessons.
You’ll be riding shotgun through Black townships and (learn about) how the HIV and AIDS epidemic became a huge part of the work and about the people that we lost along the way to the disease. You’ll hear about the failures and the successes of the program. You’ll hear about Nelson Mandela calling us and asking if he can become the program’s largest sponsor. You’ll hear about the Dalai Lama visiting the program. And you’ll hear about the powerful change agents. Some would call them coaches, but for us they were change agents who shaped the program every step of the way and turned it into what it is today.
How have your experiences in Baltimore shaped you?
I’ve had two experiences in Baltimore. One was growing up until about 18 years old where I would tell you that I lived in a bit of a bubble. Coming back and seeing Baltimore, and really America, in a completely different lens … I had this realization that America and our city of Baltimore are more divided than all these other so-called war-torn countries. We spend so much time and energy that we have the inability to have open and honest conversations with people who (don’t) look and feel like us about our similarities and differences. It was this ticking time bomb.
I’ve lived my whole life in pursuit of a few questions. One of them is ‘why are we so divided as human beings and what are creative ways to bridge those divides?’ Being back in Baltimore with this, you know, life-changing experience of having lived around the world, seeing things through other people’s eyes and (having) walked in the shoes of vastly different people taught me the importance of getting out of that bubble that I had grown up in and every day challenging the status quo, every day pushing myself out of my comfort zone to see this beautiful city for what it is—all of its incredible imperfections and—not problems but opportunities.
How would you define social entrepreneurship, and why do you see it as a global necessity now?
I think it’s entrepreneurs who are more focused on the product that they’re bringing to life. Having a social impact and being in alignment with their purpose. They’re entrepreneurs, and there’s nothing wrong with anyone out there who’s inventing stuff to make money. I think the differentiation is a social entrepreneur (is) going to go about it differently. They’re going to be first and foremost in pursuit of the purpose that pulls them out of bed every morning, gets them excited and keeps them up at night. And they’re using the product that they’re bringing to life in service of that. I think that’s the differentiation.
I don’t necessarily look at it as a necessity. I think it is a complete shift in how our next generation thinks about the work that they’re going to do every day. Culturally, there’s been a big change in that our parents used to go to work at the same place their entire lives. This next generation wants to feel inspired and motivated every single moment of their lives, which is hard to do. But when you can kind of combine what you do every day for work, and more importantly why you do it, with your career path, then your career becomes an extension of your beautiful life. I think that’s one of the things that’s organically happening. I don’t think that it’s something that people have to do. I think it’s an awakening that we’re seeing in our world that is happening all by itself.
What is your goal with this book?
I hope that in some small way this book changes the way that the world turns. That people who read the book not only leave inspired but leave with some how-tos on approaching life differently, approaching relationships differently and approaching work differently. In a way that’s going to lead them to a life that feels fulfilled at every step of the way, whether that’s at home with their families, at work with their colleagues, cranking in the basement bringing something new to life. And I think this book is going to play a role in making all that possible.