Like many Millennials, I was an activist from a young age. I watched Save the Whale documentaries and forced my parents to start recycling. My first full-time job out of college was for a large nonprofit. I was excited that I was able to start my career in the nonprofit sector since, already, I saw myself using my life to make a difference for the most vulnerable among us.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at this nonprofit. I started as the assistant to the grant writer. I offered to write some grants she couldn’t get to. I discovered that I could do it well. Later, I was promoted to being a grant writer. I raised over $300,000 in 1 fiscal year for the organization. I felt good about that.
But I’ll never forget Fil. Fil worked on the programming side and would take the money I raised and use it in some of the poorest areas in Chicago. I had to work closely with him to get the details of the impact we were able to make and share that back to those who had given us the grant. Fil was awesome at his job and got to interact with some of the most awesome people.
I’ll never forget the day I finally got to go on a site-visit with Fil and one of our donors. We went to the Back of the Yards neighborhood here in Chicago. It was while I was standing in this big room with no A/C in the heat of summer that I realized that what I was doing with this organization didn’t line up with what I knew I should and really wanted to be doing. I wanted to be in a neighborhood with my feet on the ground, not some imperial force coming in and telling people what they had to do in order to get our grant. That day, I lost trust in the system.
I couldn’t stop thinking, “There’s gotta be a better way.” There’s gotta be a better way for the people in this neighborhood to be able to do exactly what they know is good for their own community and not just what the outside forces (like me and the funder I found) would give them money to do.
So we started exploring to find a better way. Brandon came up with this idea to start a coffee shop. I figured out how to make it an activist coffee shop that made the world and the neighborhood better. Then, the recession hit and funding was drying up. Not only was the system definitely broken but now many of those programs I helped fund wouldn’t happen.
Finally, my nonprofit announced layoffs due to the recession. This was my point of no return. I knew it was my time to step out and create my own value in the world by doing what I really should and wanted to do. Only later did I learn that what I’m trying to do had a name – social enterprise but even those two words get defined differently by various people. I truly had carve my own path as a business activist entrepreneur.
Fast forward to now. I’m way more in control of my life – no layoff announcements to worry about.
I’m making the change I wish to see in the world – not the change rich people are willing to pay for.
AND I’m building true wealth – not just a 401k that could empty out if stocks take a sharp dive. Of course, it hasn’t been easy along the way but it’s been worth it 100%.