“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” ~ J. Campbell
He grew up in a family dedicated to humanitarian aid, spending most of his life in war-torn countries and he dedicated his early career to humanitarian diplomacy. But it was time for a change: he wanted to start something here, in his own country, in his own town.
Meet Julien Abegglen Verazzi, aka. “Julik”, member of the Impact Hub Geneva and founder of “Humanisthme”.
“I have worked for about seven years in the Humanitarian diplomacy, but after all these years I also realized the bias of the North-South prerogatives and the whole “business” behind the humanitarian world. When I returned to Switzerland, I wanted to do something here, so I came up with the idea of strengthening bonds and understanding beyond cultural prejudices. I am deeply convinced that humans can serve as bridges between cultures: it was a major shift from a humanitarian to a more humanist approach. I think we should all take responsibility in either changing things or accepting them as they are. But it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs.”
Together with two like-minded fellows, Julik co-founded “Humanisthme” – The name speaks for itself: the project aims at creating a community in which humans build bridges (isthmus) between cultures. Julik is responsible for the conception, coordination and implementation of the different projects.
“One major part of the activities within the association is my work as a humanist celebrant: I connect humans across and beyond cultures, religions and/or spiritualities. So far this is the most intense activity in terms of accompanying individuals, couples or families through major thresholds and existential crises. It is challenging. How do you craft a meaningful funeral that enables someone to go beyond the loss? For me it is about honoring the miracle of life. The 21st century tends to be a bit superficial and individualistic. Once you can experience what makes your life sacred than you get a sense of achievement, of meaningfulness and a feeling that this is why you’re here.”
Changing working environment
“As an independent entrepreneur your working environment can feel pretty lonely. At a certain point I was a bit sick and tired of sitting at home or having appointments in fancy cafés. I needed a place where I could meet people, work, brainstorm, organize interviews or other events. I knew about the Hub, but I never really considered it: I thought it was more about proper start-ups dedicated to marketing or fancy things. I always felt that my stuff was a little bit edgy… until I discovered the Hub family. It was an enlightening experience, being a part of a community with like-minded people.
It is a bit like a shared flat amongst friends. It is not just a commercial place where I pay to rent a room. There is more than meets the eye. Kindness, funkiness, the human factor, it makes working here quite unique. For me it is an interesting adventure to verbalize my project within the Hub, explaining to people what I was doing. I did not expect my marketing speech to develop in that sense. “
Make Hummus Not Walls
And he found more incentives at the Hub since, a couple of months ago, Julik hosted his own event at the Impact Hub. It was an exhibition inspired by Banksy’s work in cooperation with Swiss artist Ariane Arlotti around the notion of checkpoints in order to overcome our own walls, both physical and mental.
“With all these current migration issues, I thought it was very relevant to bring people together, to draw attention to such a contentious situation and raise awareness about it.
Particularly in Switzerland, we take things for granted because it is such a functional country. I’m the first to complain when the train is two minutes late. With checkpoints, for instance, you don’t know if and when you are going to reach your destination.”
Julik turned the Hub into a real life experience in which visitors where only allowed to enter the building through checkpoints and after getting instructions to follow a special trail.
“The randomness of checkpoints was a highly interesting experience. I have been through that when I was living in the Middle East. I just wanted people to experiment it. Here if I want to go to the Migros or visit a friend, I just do it, I never wonder if there’ll be a checkpoint on the way. This is also what I mean with mental or physical checkpoints, we’re conditioned.”
Against all discriminations
“Another meaningful part of my work is to advocate and raise awareness regarding discriminations in general and LGBT rights in particular. When I read the federal statistics ten years ago I was appalled: in one of the most stable and wealthiest countries in the world we had amongst the highest youth suicide rates. Here LGBT teenagers actually have four times higher chances to attempt suicide compared to average citizens. We try to save the world but we should also start from our doorstep.
With friends, we created a project together with the LGBT Federation to provide assistance to LGBT teenagers (16-25 years old). We offer them a safe space (informal activities and gatherings) and we do advocacy (public talks, interventions in school or workshops against sexisms and homophobia). It started nine years ago in a clandestine way and now it has become an official partnership with the cantonal department of public education.”
A community of like-minded activists
“What I really want is to create a community of like-minded committed sacred activists, willing to share who they are, their own passions and heartbreaks. We should all start from our heartbreaks: if it makes you suffer, well… it’s because it matters. Hopefully we can find more volunteers able to help us out with our projects and ready to share their thoughts and creative ideas to help “Humanisthme” have a greater impact.”