Alan Macmillan Orr, was born in Glasgow in 1969, but moved to Marlow, in England with his parents in 1975 and was educated in Bluecoats School, Sonning, where he excelled in languages, kayaking, and running and failed miserably in everything else.
One thing he was good at was computing and he spent the next 10 years working in Information Technology, specialising in project management, troubleshooting, inventory management, and production line/supply chain analysis, whilst honing his skills as a club DJ!
In 1999, at the peak of his career, alan decided to quit it all, and go to Australia in search of adventure, circumnavigating it, learning to dive, surf, and becoming a professional fruit picker, before volunteering at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
It was at this time he met someone who would alter the course of his life, and spent the next 5 years travelling with her, all around the world, learning new skills, including becoming a chef, ski chalet manager, traditional thai massage therapist, and a highland groundskeeper! It was also at this time when he read a book which sparked a new flame, that of looking inward to understand the way he thought, why he thought that way, and to noticing things in the world which for 30 years had remained hidden.
Always someone who saw the lighter side of life, who found humour in everything, he found it hard to reconcile the new awareness and insight with his easy going personality, and struggled to manage relationships and work with the need to understand more.
This obsession to try to understand everything had quite a toll on his mental health, but on the surface he still appeared to be the easy going Alan who enjoyed fun, nights out, music, djing, and running, but underneath he was really struggling to keep it together.
He realised that the only way he was going to quieten his over active mind was to start to write things down, and thus began a 5 year writing journey which destroyed a multitude of relationships all over the world, and included a year spent as the head chef of a buddhist monastery on a remote island in Scotland!
The resulting work, “The Natural Mind – Waking Up” was written as a dialogue with the reader and covered 250 topics as diverse as pornography, supermarkets, banking, driving, crime, insurance, revolution and zoos!
It was his 2000 page attempt to understand his own place in the world , and why people thought the way they did, and how those thoughts lead to actions and the inevitable consequences ! He knew it would never be finished and so it was released as an evolving book.
He wrote several more books in the same series, but was frustrated that it wasn’t enough to just have philosophy on paper – it had to be put into practice – a living philosophy, not a book on a shelf.
That was more difficult than he could ever have imagined, and he kept coming into conflict with people whom he believed would be open to his new ideas, but weren’t! Never a prophet in ones own land or something like that..
Several years prior, whilst trying to conceive ideas that would solve the problem of human violence, alan realised that far greater minds than his had tried to tackle this through means such as laws and punishment for transgressors, but nothing seemed to have worked. No matter what governments, philosophers, academics, etc tried, people were still violent. They were also still greedy, jealous, deceitful, amongst many other undesirable but prevalent attributes.
You could cajole, educate, or threaten people, but nothing seemed to have a lasting effect, so how was an ex IT man, with little formal education, and no desire to group with others, have an impact in the world? He realised that this was going to be a futile exercise and decided to go on a long walk to see if he got any insight along the way!
One long walk turned into ten, following ancient pilgrimage routes, despite no interest in “god” or “religion”, and it was during one of these walks that he decided to focus his efforts into one area which he knew was central to human existence – food.
Everyone had to eat. But most people didn’t know where their food came from, the violence and suffering encountered by animals we had designated “meat”, the environmental costs associated with food production, the waste, the energy needed to produce food, the litter around the world, who the people growing our food were, how it got here, or the nasty things companies were putting in the food.
After several attempts at creating a local circular food economy with a compassionate approach in his home town and facing barriers everywhere, he realised maybe people on the land were the wrong audience. These were people who were busy working to pay their mortgages, bring up families, or just live their own lives free of interference from people like him who were trying to change them!
With that in mind, in 2018 after spending three and half years looking after his mother who had severe dementia and facial cancer, he decided that he would take the project to a different place – the ocean!
Sailing a 17m classic ocean racer, “Ariana”, alan took to the Atlantic Ocean, a harsh environment, with limited resources on board, to understand how he could teach people to think differently about food, energy, and about their place in the world, and how all life hangs in a fragile balance. He then created The Sail Trader Project, to educate people about supply chains and how the food and products we choose are dynamically linked to every single thing, person, animal, and mineral on the planet, and how shifting our thinking can help us evolve as humans, empower disadvantaged people, and help them develop personally, and make positive change everywhere.
When people ask him what his greatest achievement is so far, alan says that while he remains frustrated at the stupidity and ignorance of the most intelligent species on the planet, he’s glad he’s experienced being alive and laughing with people every day, whilst sitting on a rock spinning somewhere in space, drinking a cold beer.
He is currently based in London where he is curating The Walnut magazine, consulting on ethical strategy, practical philosophy for organisational change, and ethical supply chain design.