SOCIAL GOOD & THE NON PROFIT ENTREPRENEUR
Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to watch (and sometimes help) my 17 year old son Louie create and launch his very own non-profit Louie’s Vision (www.louiesvision.com). Now to be clear, he didn’t really set out to create a non-profit, but to create an organization that helps kids with blindness live a more full life. Louie is blind and adventurous and felt he could make a difference by helping other kids facing some of the same things. It’s been awesome to watch and I’ve learned quite a bit. The insights I’ve taken away help me almost everyday in business.
Here are some highlights from the past year:
NICHE – It’s important to do something that you know and care about. When you are considering spending a significant portion of your time doing something – you should like it. Working with kids through his non-profit is a perfect fit for Louie. About the same time Louie started his non-profit, he landed his first job. He told me he was going to do it all on his own and he got the job – washing dishes. I told him that washing dishes was not likely a fit with his personality (I have some experience here), but he jumped right in. After a brief adjustment period, Louie moved on to a new job as a bike mechanic – a much better fit. You need to be honest with yourself, figure out what you want and go get it. In my role at bswing, I am lucky to be a part of a team that is intentional about the work we pursue and bring in. Our intentional approach has allowed me to explore my own areas of interest more than at any time in my past.
VOCATION – Merriam-Webster defines vocation as ‘a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action.’ Most often we think of it in relation to a religious calling or career path. But none of us really has a single course of action. Again, watching Louie form his non-profit Louie’s Vision, I’ve had a front row seat to the forming of vocation. Like most kids, Louie’s life is filled with school, sports, friends, part-time employment – and on top of that (not in place of that) he is becoming a leader in the areas of Accessibility, Confidence and Awareness for the blind community. When I sit down and talk to Louie about it, he points to both the balance and rewards offered through this full life. At 17, Louie truly sees his work through Louie’s Vision as his life’s vocation. And it’s become clear that there are some pretty cool intersections between each of these life experiences that help him expand and grow his vocation with Louie’s Vision. A recent example of this is when a student from a neighboring city heard about Louie’s Vision through a mutual friend and he donated a grant he had received from Gatorade – and Louie connected with the bike shop he worked at to use that money to buy four tandem bikes to give to kids with blindness so they could get out and enjoy biking this summer. What I’ve learned from this is the celebration of life’s intersections and how to use these to grow.
HELP – I can’t stress enough that when you are starting something (non-profit or for-profit), others genuinely want to help. In fact, it’s important to think of ways for people to become a part of your success. That can be through donations, advice, but should also include opportunities to share more deeply in the endeavor. Louie started with a list of potential Board Members for Louie’s Vision. We sat down and talked about the need for a cross-section of experiences and diverse perspectives. He set out to get 8 people on his board – and we talked through how to ask and what to expect. While we expected some push-back and a few no’s, Louie was fortunate that everyone he asked responded with an enthusiastic YES. In fact, with each new idea (from arranging for a blind ski day at the local ski hill to coordinating an adaptive Yoga event with a national leader in adaptive Yoga), people have jumped right in to help. I’ve taken from this a more expansive approach to asking for connections in business – and it works.
The past year has been an awesome learning year for me. The front row seat to Louie bringing his vision to life has renewed something in me. I’ve sat back and watched the excitement of creating something new – based almost entirely on a single vision. And I’ve grown as a result of this – pushing my own experiences in new and different ways. I’ve applied what I’ve learned from Louie every week here at bswing. It all boils
down to getting a deeper understanding of yourself and asking others to join you in bringing your ideas and passion to life.