Without really realizing it, I have been helping people for a very long time.
One of my first summer jobs in University was running an evening drop in centre designed to get kids off the streets and doing something productive. I don’t think I realized back then the importance of what I was doing. I was a teenager mostly concerned with girls and the fact that I could finally drink legally, yet I was giving up my own Friday and Saturday nights to organize activities for kids that did not have many options. If I wasn’t doing my job maybe some of those kids would have ended up in trouble or in jail changing the outcome of their lives. I often wonder what some of those kids are up to now.
The Game Changer
Fast forward years later. I had just closed my retail video store (a story for another post) and was hired on at the Saint Mary’s University Business Development Centre for a three month contract. The pay was horrible and the opportunity relatively short, but the contract itself intrigued me. Oversee a project that was helping priority youth start businesses of their own. Everything was pretty much organized. Guest speakers came in most mornings to inform the students and then they were encouraged to work on their business ideas in the afternoon. Failing a video store and my previous experience running the youth drop in centre made me the perfect person to oversee this program.
After sitting through a morning presentation of watching someone from Revenue Canada do their best impression of the teacher from Charlie Brown, I realized something; the nugget of a good idea was there, the implementation was all wrong. I convinced my boss at the time that I should stick around beyond the three months. Let me use the idea to develop a new program, one that I thought would have more longevity. Ditch the primary focus of entrepreneurship and starting a business and shift to a focus on development using entrepreneurship and other concepts. Skills Link (Options as it is now called) was born. Work with 10 youth at a time, train them for 8 weeks on the basics such as communication, stress reduction, presenting skills then provide them with employment opportunities tied to their personal interests. Use goal setting, passion and support as the cornerstones of success.
The result…a program that has worked with hundreds of youth. Many of them have gone on to find incredible success through school , gainful employment or starting their own businesses. The program was recognized in 2014 as being the best program in North America for providing youth employability skills. Thinking about the many youth that I have worked with in this program brings joy to my heart.
Early in my work at Saint Mary’s University I got involved with a student society Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship – ACE for short. They have since changed their name to Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) and then Enactus Saint Mary’s. Through the name changes the overall idea has remained relatively constant, use the things you learn in the classroom to better the world around you. I was the team’s Faculty Advisor, even though it was a few years after my involvement with them that I became an actual faculty. This young group of university students that I get to work with and be part of year after year have changed my outlook on life. Many have become close friends. It is amazing to sit and watch the future generation create lasting change directly in front of you. The projects they run are inspirational. Train incarcerated women to be better prepared for the outside world. Increase dialogue on female equality. Help women from developing nations launch and sustain their own businesses. Empower individuals with disabilities, connecting them to entrepreneurship and the workforce. Our team has been lauded with awards yet they pale to the fact that their efforts have forever changed the lives of people most in need. Working with these amazing youth drives me to have a stronger impact in my own life.
A Little Karma
Through all of my experience, I have become acutely aware of two things. I want to run my own business again and I want that business to mean something. Enter Karmabuy. Started with my two amazing partners Lianne Perry and Mukul Gupta, Karmabuy has a simple premise; support organizations out there that are creating products that drive a stronger social change, the social enterprise if you will. It is an e-commerce platform where people can go by products that mean something. Today that idea becomes a reality. Karmabuy has officially launched. Go to www.karmabuy.org and check us out. Send me your feedback, buy some product. Most importantly get off your ass and do something that will change the world, even if that something is as small as buying an earring made by someone who has struggled in their own life.