A Model Citizen

A sacred space of conversation with Petra Nemcova on the power of positive thinking to not only change your life, but to save it.

The unusual events of this new decade have truly taken many of us by surprise. A shift in our day to day, adapting to a new norm, and questioning the forthcoming. But for supermodel and philanthropist, Petra Nemcova, life’s twists and turns have already granted her the vigour and courage to overcome even the most terrifying obstacles. With Global Citizen, Petra shares her intimate journey across the globe and the one life changing event that nearly took her life.

Has modelling always been an aspiration since you were young?
I come from a small town in Czech Republic, and at a very young age I really just wanted to take care of my family. My parents had a lot of hardship to take care of us and to put food on the table for my sister and I, so my main thing from the beginning has really been to earn enough to take care of them. Of course, once you start earning enough then the aspiration changes, but it has always been about working with people who have beautiful values. That’s something that goes across the timeline!

Tell us a bit about your most memorable campaigns in your career?
Working with brands which have great values has always been important to me and I have been very lucky to work with some of the most incredible people. Chopard has always been a brand that I looked up to because they have a long-standing family tradition and values and have always focused on philanthropy and sustainability. Caroline Scheufele, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele have embraced me like family and having that feeling is what is really the most memorable! I also can’t forget one of the most pivotal experiences which was landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It took my career off – it was like taking an elevator and going 30 floors up at the speed of light! Working with them year after year has been exceptional and they truly treated me like family.

Looking back to the course of your life, from motherhood to philanthropy, to career. What have been the greatest life lessons?
Not to take anything for granted. Growing up under communism, we did not have the freedom to travel outside of the communist bloc, the freedom of speech, or even the freedom to dream. My parents couldn’t dream of becoming who they wanted to become; it was not an option, so that was one of the biggest lessons when I was growing up. I also have discovered that we are constantly learning and growing, and if we stop growing, we ultimately stop living. Between experiencing firsthand how little we are through tsunamis – we are like a grain of sand and Nature can swing her arm and get rid of us; or experiencing the humility from giving birth to my baby boy and seeing this divine creation, I have learned that the most profound lessons are always connected to Nature and she keeps teaching us and reminding us through her wisdom and with so much patience.

You experienced a tragedy in 2004 that completely changed the course of your life. Could you tell us how you were able to pick up the pieces and regain the emotional strength to move forward?
In 2004 during a holiday in Thailand with my partner, we were hit with the devastating Tsunami which took his life and nearly took mine. I saw so much suffering that day; 250,000 people lost their lives and millions were impacted, I lost my loved one, and I suffered serious physical injuries where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to walk again. It was very challenging, but I knew I was lucky to be alive. Five years prior I started to focus on meditation and working with energy and I truly believe that it is what saved my life. The day of the tsunami, I held on to a tree for eight hours before being rescued and I was able to remain calm instead of reacting. When we react with panic, we often take the wrong steps and can lose the opportunity to save our lives. In the days, weeks and months after the tsunami I was using these powerful tools – meditation, working with energy, focusing on the power of positive thinking, which led me to heal faster than the doctors could have ever imagined.

Your non-profit, All Hands and Hearts, has impacted over 1,2 million lives in 20 countries. Can you tell us a bit more about its mission?
All Hands and Hearts was co-founded by David Campbell and I following the devastations of the 2004 Tsunami which is often referred to as the deadliest tsunami in history. Although David had no relatives struck by the tsunami and didn’t know anyone in Thailand, after hearing about the events on the news, he was still powerfully compelled and dedicated to take action. From the start, our organisation has been committed to effectively and efficiently address the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters. Since then, we have gathered nearly 61,000 volunteers from 144 countries, rebuilt 305 resilient schools which serve 113,000 children in 15 countries and have also rebuilt thousands of homes altogether helping over 1.2 million community members in 20 countries. This is just the beginning for us. We are committed to these communities going forward – to be there for them immediately after natural disasters but most importantly, for the long-term future. The costs associated with the recovery and rebuilding is more expensive than the first response – yet the arc of giving after natural disasters is upside down; which is why we are committed to coming early and staying late. Our second commitment is to bring people together through volunteering and show that we can make the impossible possible when we come together and when we work in the spirit of collaboration. We also want to inspire more organisations and individuals to come together and join forces. There are 1.5 million charitable organizations just in the USA alone, and at the same time there are many overlaps and many gaps. If foundations worked together and encapsulate the spirit of collaboration instead of competition, we can find solutions for our world in a faster and more effective way.

You have been dedicating your life not just to philanthropy but also to sustainability. Can you share with us why this is important to you?
What I find very exciting is that with every decision we make, we have the opportunity to empower the planet, the people, and create a positive change in our world! Even though my sustainability journey started almost 12 years ago, my family and I have been very focused on a conscious sustainable life and we are learning every day. It is an ongoing journey and with increasing innovation, there are more solutions coming our way. As a model, I am also conscious that fashion is the second biggest polluting industry in the world. Within my career, I have had the chance to work with other inspiring women who are doing their best to bring sustainability in the picture as well, including Caroline Scheufele, Chopard’s Co-President and Livia Firth from Eco Age. In 2018 we did the Cannes Film Festival together where all the looks for the red carpet were sustainable,
and from then on, many designers started to make either all or part of their collections sustainable. Not everybody can dedicate their life to philanthropy, but every single person can consciously take sustainable decisions. The ripple effects of your choices have much more power than you could imagine – and they come back and impact you.

This year has been extremely difficult for many in all parts of the globe. Given your experience with the unexpected, what advice could you give those who need a glimmer of hope during these trying times?
One of the most important lessons from this experience which I’ve learned is that we have a choice – the choice to focus on negative or positive. Even if everything seems dark and there’s 95% of negative, if we are able to focus on the 5% positive, we will be able to attract more positivity and healing to our life.

A great example is when I lived in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and I met a gentleman who worked in war zones, which to me are some of the most challenging environments. I asked him how he copes and manages to find hope and he said, “I focus on the 1% positive.” That’s why it’s so important understanding that we do have a choice. Every single day, every single moment in our life, we have a choice to focus on the negative or positive.

This year has definitely been incredibly trying for so many people and my heart goes out to everyone who has been personally affected. In another light however, there are also some beautiful things that came out of COVID-19 as well, including a sense of togetherness. People around the world have understood more than ever that we are so interconnected and have been helping each other in such a powerful way and that’s an example of how we should be living going forward. We keep evolving. We are not the same that we were five years ago or even one year ago. I can see through a lot of my friends who during COVID-19 have connected to nature, to their families, and to themselves. They want more harmony. So, I feel that these challenging times in our lives are actually an opportunity for us to really tune inwards instead of focusing so much on the outside world.

What do you think our roles are, as Global Citizens, during this global pandemic?
It has probably been the most powerful example in recent history of humankind of how interconnected we are. With that we have seen some incredible acts of kindness, of togetherness, of humanness, and that is the role of being a Global Citizen. The global pandemic has given us an opportunity to step out from the usual fast paced lives and has given us the opportunity to look within us. If we truly want to make a change in the world, we have to start with ourselves. With every decision that we take, we are making either a positive or negative ripple effect in our world. More than that, it is not just the decisions that we are taking but also the thoughts that we are having. As we know from Quantum Physics, our thoughts are creative, so through our thoughts we create our reality.

The role of each Global Citizen is to be conscious with every thought, with every decision, with every action and think about whether it will uplift the planet and people. And if it will, it ultimately uplifts us as well because we are Global Citizens and we are more interconnected than we could imagine so let’s be more conscious in every moment and let’s raise global consciousness.