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Newsletter: People Who Make the World a Better Place

Jan 15, 2009 10:51:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

If you are going to get involved in social mission, stick with what you know and can be comfortable doing – it’s the only way you’ll do it well.  [more]

The danger of "productizing" and "promoting" my learning about social business - which is what I do on this website - is that readers can mistakenly think that we are making the difference on the front lines. We are not.

Our job is different. We use our foundation and this website (and eletters and speaking engagements and so forth) to help "spread the virus". We seek to learn and publicize innovations and collaborations in social work, named here "the business of good."

It's an important role, I'm glad we are developing it, but it's not the real work.

In my view, the real work is on the ground - working directly every day with the people who need support - making a difference in their lives. The people I admire most help someone gain self esteem by developing opportunities for self reliance.

Recently, I noticed that we are getting to know a lot of people in this network of "real workers." I'll introduce you to a few of them here, along with their websites where you can find out more. To me, these are the real "heroes" of social ventures.

Note: I'm expecting each of these folks will now contact me and say "hey, I'm not the hero, the real "doers" in our organization are...," but that will be a story for another day.

Rich Clark -- www.saintmartincleveland.org -- I sometimes think that if Rich were locked in a room for over an hour alone he would probably hurt himself. He is constant motion, in thought and deed. He taught in an inner city high school for many years and then was President of Cleveland St. Ignatius high school in the 90s/early 2000s. In 2003, Rich decided he had an even higher calling. Over the last five years, he's led the development of a new inner city high school (part of a network called "Christo Rey") that uses an innovative work-study model. Each student basically pays for their own education by working one full day a week at a local company. The company then compensates the school for a full time employee's pay (each job has a team of five students sharing the work week). The result: providing college prep education to kids who otherwise would have no such chance. In 2008, St. Martin graduated their first 50 students, all of whom today are at universities. Amazing!

Gerald Skoch -- www.wsccenter.org -- Another friend new to me this year, Jerry is a lawyer by education and a businessperson by experience. Jerry leads the 32 year old West Side (Cleveland) Catholic Center staff and volunteer force in daily service to hundreds of local indigent and voiceless with the most fundamental needs of life - food, clothing and shelter. You may particularly enjoy our featured "Success Story" this month in which Jerry outlines a unique and apparently very effective approach to homelessness. To me, this guy is the prototype of a new age social business leader.

Sister Gladys Owuor -- www.uvipkenya.org/adozioniGB.html -- Probably my most interesting new friend this year was found in the Great Lakes region of Kenya, on our trip last month. When we arrived at the Unyolo Village project, most of the 100 children supported by the project (health services, education assistance - monetary, tutorial and arts - and family services) were at the gate to greet us. That night, we dined with the sisters then watched the children put on a talent show. The next day, Sister Gladys took us to a demonstration farm that she and her sisters have been developing on the steep banks of a river near Lake Victoria. We climbed a half mile straight down to the river then straight back up, talking all the while about her dreams and how our little family might support this effort. The sisters bring the poorest of the poor to their farm to show them how they can feed themselves by developing a garden on this acreage. Sister Gladys hero image only got bigger for me when I commented to our friend and guide, Joe Cistone, on Sister's slender appearance. He said "oh, didn't I tell you, she has cancer".

So, what do we learn from these people?

Is it that you and me should go into the toughest places in our world and directly serve the homeless, voiceless, uneducated and uncared for? That, even with cancer, we could work 12 hours a day on fighting overwhelming sickness and poverty in a remote village of Africa?

Nope. Get real. My idea of "roughing it" is staying at a Sheraton without an indoor pool.

No, I'm spreading the word on these three people in order to reinforce two of the most basic lessons I've learned so far in creating effective social ventures:

  1. I do not have to do what people like Rich and Jerry and Sister Gladys do to be effective in supporting and growing their missions. In fact, I should do only what I can do well. In my case, I will work with them to develop business disciplines. But it does them and me no good - in fact it interferes, if I try to do what they do.
  2. The stories and personalities of each of these folks remind me that to give best, we should give with comfort and joy. Each of the people in this article have made me laugh. They are each, in their own way, funny and informal people

We accomplish little by judging, being angry about our world or thinking we can "fix" it. The problems are too big to "solve" simplistically and getting so deep as to despair helps no one.

Instead we just need to do our little part gladly. The heroes I've followed not only do good works, they do them with a loving and good spirit.

Mother Theresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Thanks to Rich and Jerry and Gladys for showing me great love.

Tags: Newsletter, Social Service, Business Disciplines

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

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