In life, there are moments that help define our purpose, and there are paths that lead us to unexpected places. My story is one that intertwines my expertise in strategic marketing with a desire to make a difference in the world. I’ve found we all can make a lasting impact in our communities, nation, and world. And I’d love to hear about your sense of calling or something you’ve always wanted to do.
A Philosophy that Resonates:
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
I loved this quote and from the first time I read it, I found it to ring true. Some attribute it to Mark Twain, but the author is uncertain, just like many things in life. Yet, as a business owner and marketer, I’ve been amazed at how skills used to forward manufacturing and industrial clients can transcend to help people in very different circumstances.
My wife and I often joke about the things we will do when we “grow up.” Yet, we’ve been married for over 35 years, have three adult children, and have weathered difficult trials along the way. We share a Christian faith that has given us the joy to both be thankful for the life we have and the privilege to serve others.
Post-Earthquake Mission to Empower Through Skills:
Just three months after the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake, I was part of a small team that supported the rebuilding effort. While some of our time was hard labor, we had two economic goals.
The first was to teach some of our Haitian brothers a skill that they could use after we left. I few of us brought basic electrical wiring tools. We would be helping to build and wire a small apartment building for the poorest of the poor. Over the course of the week, with limited ability on our side to speak Creole and limited ability on their side to speak English, we taught basic wiring skills. The first two days they watched while we did most of the work. By mid-week, we began a transition. And by the end of the week, they were doing the wiring with us doing limited coaching. On the last day, we had an unofficial graduation where we gave them the tools we had brought, and they had learned to use. Our friends with new skills could now work in construction doing higher-paying electrical work.
Micro-Lending for Lasting Impact:
The second goal was more ambitious, as we wanted to help people start small, self-sustaining businesses to help feed their families. From a missions or humanitarian perceptive, this is called micro-lending. One of the books that shaped my perspective was “Banker to the Poor” by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.
Entrepreneurial desire exists not only in MBA capitalists in developed countries, but hungry moms wanting to feel their families in third-world countries. Most of the time these efforts fail because of a poor process, little accountability, or Westerners forcing our own paradigms.
For the small business program to be successful, we knew that while we provided some seed capital, it was the Haitians who would need to help build and administer the program. We worked with a local church and invited some of the members who worked at local banks to help develop the program. Unlike charity, this was a program that people needed to apply for – sometimes the application was a simple conversion about their idea – and the recipients would need to pay back what was considered a small business loan. Other family members of friends were enlisted as accountability partners for the loan recipients, adding an appropriate level of peer pressure.
One applicant was a mother who had never had meaningful employment. Her “business plan” was to buy a wheelbarrow and bring some of the fruit where she lived to a major intersection and sell it. She needed $50 to buy the wheelbarrow and start-up. Soon she was being asked by her rural neighbors to sell their fruit which she was able to do for a small profit. More than the financial blessing to her and her family, she now had the dignity of being able to provide for herself and others.
Another person wanted to set up a small stand in a local second-hand market. (The reality is most of the stores we saw only sold second-hand and even third-hand goods.) She knew the products she wanted to focus on, who might buy her goods, and where there was room in the busy second-hand market.
I had the privilege of going back to Haiti and meeting with the volunteer administration team and some of the loan recipients. Over 90 percent of the loans had been paid back in full with a small amount of interest, the fund was self-sustaining.
While Haiti’s political, social, and economic climate has deteriorated, there are some who are able to provide for themselves and their families who would not have been able to otherwise.
As a young businessperson, I never would have guessed that the skills I learned over a career in strategic marketing could be translated into something so much more meaningful. While I still ask myself what I’m going to do when I “grow up,” I know that I’m hard-wired to serve others, whether leading marketing programs for manufacturing and high-tech companies or helping people who have an idea and need a wheelbarrow.
About the Author:
John Dobbs is a strategic marketing partner with Altix Consulting. Prior to his tenure at Altix, he played a pivotal role in building one of the world’s largest and most respected business-to-business agencies. Today, John continues to merge his passion for integrated marketing communications with a commitment to nurturing growth in the manufacturing, industrial, and high-tech sectors.