Traffic is probably my least favorite part of living in LA. It makes me angry that I have to spend 3 hours a day (or more) driving around just to do something productive. Fortunately, after living here for almost 5 years, I’ve learned to listen to podcasts, catch up with old friends on the phone, and yes occasionally belt out show tunes at the top of my lungs. In my many months of LA driving, I have also been fortunate enough to not be in any car accidents. Until two days ago. The car in front of me slammed on his breaks to get out of the way of an approaching ambulance, and I was way too slow to react (I may or may not have taken some cough medicine before driving-which I would strongly urge you NOT to do). I rear ended this very nice BMW. It wasn’t an intense impact and there wasn’t a scratch on my car, but it still shook up the poor couple inside of said BMW. The wife was especially angered, and was yelling… a lot. I had no voice because I was deathly ill, hence the cough syrup, so I pretty much stood there apologizing and giving her all my information as best I could.
Once we’d taken pictures, and we’d established there had been only minor, if any, damage, the husband apologized to me, he said he knew it ruined my night. I told him things happen, I was just bummed I’d be late to work. We started chatting, and the wife asked me what I do for a living. I told her about being a fit model, and her eyes pretty much glazed over. Then I told her about By Grace. I told her that I run a non-profit with my best friend. I told her we teach women in the third world how to sew, and that we’ve designed a clothing and accessories line that they then sew for us so we are able to provide them with continuous employment. As I gave my elevator pitch, her entire demeanor shifted. At first she seemed impressed, then her disposition shifted again. She looked at me, almost with pity, and said, “How noble.” She patted me on the shoulder and said she respected me, and the world needed hopeful, young people like me. The husband wished me “Good luck,” and said I’d need it. Something about the interaction left me confused and saddened. It was as if they liked me more because I wanted to do something that made a difference in the lives of others, but they also saw it as a hopeless pursuit.
Yesterday, I went out to dinner with a group of friends. While we were out, I was talking with this very successful businessman. He has made a fortune on advising others on the best business deals to make. When I told him about By Grace, he asked me how much time a week I was dedicating to my “little non-profit,” he scoffed at my response. How could I spend so much time working on something where I made no money? He told me I clearly had an altruistic heart, but I should use my brilliant brain and available resources in a more logical fashion.
It’s strange that these interactions happened so closely to one another. Thus far, people have been encouraging when I tell them about By Grace. I’m not looking for a pat on the back or for people’s approval, but it did get me thinking. Why are these strangers concerned about my work in a non-profit? Why do they see working for a business that has social impact at its core as a bigger risk or a waste of time?
I think there is a misunderstanding of what it means to work for a non-profit. Yes there are tax benefits, and yes we technically solicit donations. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t operate a business. We operate a business where most of our decisions are mission driven, yes. But mission driven companies are the future. We are living in an age where people want to make a difference, but don’t necessarily know how. So let’s start by asking what problems need to be solved? What problems do you see in your daily life? I’m a firm believer that people solve the problems they understand. Emily and I saw a need for education and employment in the Northern Region of Ghana. That’s a problem that we could address. So we are. And that doesn’t make us noble or in need of your pity. We are creating a business that has multiple benefits. We get to change people’s lives. That’s pretty freaking amazing. We are educating women. We are employing them. And ultimately, we hope to make enough money to employ ourselves. We know that we need By Grace to make money in order to continue to be successful. That is why we sell the products that the women create, so that we don't have to rely on donations. By Grace is a business, and we are blessed to live in an era where people are starting to understand that the greatest business opportunities stem from the greatest social issues. This is leading to a shift in the understanding of many people, and in order to believe it, they need positive examples. They need to hear about success stories of companies that make a difference and make a profit. So that is one of my newest goals. To prove to people that a self-sustaining business that makes a positive impact on the lives of people everyday is not only feasible, but that it is necessary. Because I don’t think I can handle one more pity nod for working in the non-profit world, especially not when what we are doing is the future of thriving businesses.
Until next time,