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How Pro Rock Climber Alex Honnold Made Me Re-Think My Impact on the World

Photo: The Honnold Foundation

Professional rock climber Alex Honnold set himself apart from all others in his sport by being the first and only person to ever free solo (climb without ropes or harnesses) El Capitan, a 3,000 foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park.

This near-impossible feat was documented in the Academy Award-winning film Free Solo. His fame has since grown and he now has 1.6 million followers on Instagram. However, these are not the most impressive things about him as we found out during his keynote presentation at TractionForce 2019.

The Best Thing about Alex Honnold isn’t Free Solo, IMO

Alex is much more than his rock-climbing accomplishments. Before the fame, Alex lived out of a van, climbing as much as possible. It was around this time that he decided to donate a third of his earnings to groups he believed were doing good work. Through this, the Honnold Foundation was born.

Since its beginning in 2012, the Honnold Foundation has been helping to reduce environmental impact by supporting solar power initiatives. To this day, Alex continues to support the Foundation by donating a third of what he makes.

Can you imagine living out of a van and donating a third of your paycheck? I can’t. For me, this is what truly makes Alex incredible—the fact that even before he was successful, he took whatever steps he could to make a difference in the world. He is an inspiration to me because he’s an example that anyone can work to make the world a better place.

Listening to professional rock climber Alex Honnold at TractionForce 2019 made me think about the impact of my every day actions, no matter how small.

From Rock Climbing to Solar Energy

Alex became interested in solar power after travelling to Africa and realizing the two things he was most troubled by—global warming and poverty—could be alleviated with solar energy.

I recently had a chat with Dory Trimble, Executive Director of the Honnold Foundation to find out more about the initiatives they are undertaking to improve the lives of people around the world. Dory explained to me that many girls and women need to do chores during the day, so if they want an education they have to study at night. Unfortunately, the kerosene lamps that are often used can be costly and dangerous. The Honnold Foundation’s partnership with SolarAid is giving these girls and women a way to study in a cheaper, safer and greener way using solar energy lights.

Dory Trimble is the Executive Director at the Honnold Foundation. Photo: The Honnold Foundation

“Solar energy is an access point for so many things. The implication is way deeper than just electricity,” says Dory. And, in terms of Alex’s involvement, she adds, “It’s really cool because no one told him to do this. He is using his visibility for good.”

Even an Inspiration—Needs an Inspiration

This year, the theme of TractionForce was the Collective Why, with the goal of inspiring organizations to look for a deeper meaning beyond profit. Alex started off his keynote presentation by breaking down the challenges of climbing El Capitan, but he also discussed why he started the Honnold Foundation. He touched on his sister, who he said was his inspiration in always being intentional in doing the most good possible as a teacher.

This idea of being intentional struck a chord in me and has stuck with me since the event just a few weeks ago. I have been re-inspired to try my best to work on being intentional, especially when it comes to my role as a consumer. I want to work on buying less and when I do, I want to use my money to invest in brands that are ethically produced. I want to create less garbage, always carry a reusable mug with me and even start donating to companies that inspire me despite still being in school.

Alex Honnold has made me realize that a person who does not necessarily have the time or funds to focus on bigger initiatives is not helpless. By focusing on intentional day-to-day actions, every person has the power to have an impact. I think the biggest takeaway from Alex’s keynote presentation is that we can all be more intentional in the actions we make—whether as individuals or as companies—in order to do good in the world.

Want to see what I found so inspiring about Alex Honnold? Watch his keynote presentation from TractionForce 2019.

Written by Emily Toth, Traction for Good Intern at Traction on Demand.

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